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Copyright, iSpp 
By Small, Maynard £ff Company 


Entered at Stationers'' Hall 

Press of 
George H. Ellis, Boston, U.S.J. 

The photogravure used as a frontispiece 
to this volume is from a photograph of a 
daguerreotype which is supposed to have 
been taken in Kansas in 1856, and which is 
now in the possession of Mrs. Charles Fair- 
child. The present engraving is by John 
Andrew & Son, Boston. 



To present a picture of the man, separ- 
ating him as much as possible from the 
ontroversies and hatreds which commonly 
ise up at the mention of his name, and to 
?U the story of Ms life plainly, without 
nquiry into the effect of his work, or any 
urther estimate and comparison, would be 
uite enough to attempt in a biography of 
fyhn Brown of Osawatomie as brief as 
Us one must be. Brown's sacrifice has 
een classed sometimes with that of Jesus of 
Vazareth; he has often been called mur- 
derer, brigand, and traitor. He has been 
written about much and well, and for the 
wst part fiercely. It would seem that the 
ime has come for a calmer account of him, 
iven with no heat or bitterness. Both sides 
f the controversy with which he concerned 
imself so actively should have learned much 
n forty years. 

Yet the story of Brown is so strongly 
imple, so utterly governed by an ideal, so 


glowing and tragical, that any one who fol- 
lows it closely is likely to find himself kind- 
ling before he is aware of it 

Boston, October 15, 1899. 



May 9. John Brown was born at Tor- 
rington, Connecticut. 

His family removed to Ohio. 

Joined the Congregational church at 
Hudson, Ohio. 


June 21. Married Dianthe Lusk. 

Appointed postmaster at Bandolph, 

August 10. His first wife died. 

July 11. Married Mary Anne Day. 

Eeturned to Ohio. 

Swore his family to active opposition to 


Made a trip to western Virginia to sur- 
vey lands for Oberlin College. 

Eemoved to Springfield, Massachusetts, 
as selling agent of the Western wool- 


Unfolded to Frederick Douglass a plan 
for a negro insurrection in the Virginia 


Went to England to sell wool, and vis- 
ited the Continent. 

Became associated with Gerrit Smith's 
plan to colonize negroes on Adirondack 
lands, and removed his family to a farm 
at North Elba, on these lands. 

Thanksgiving Day. Addressed a meeting 
of negroes at Springfield, and wrote to 
his wife concerning it, suggesting a mili- 
tant intention regarding slavery. 


January 15. Issued a letter of counsel to 
tlie " League of Gileadites" at Spring- 
field, advising revolutionary methods. 

His sons emigrated to Kansas. 

June 28. Attended an anti-slavery con- 
vention at Syracuse, New York, and 
raised money to use in sending arms to 
his sons and others in Kansas. 
September. Eemoved to Kansas. 
December. Became captain of a band of 
Free State rangers. Fought at Lawrence. 

"Operated" variously in Kansas. 
May 24. Directed the Pottawatomie 
u executions," or murders. 
June 2. Won the battle of Black Jack. 
August 30. His son Frederick killed by 
pro-slavery men. Won the battle of 
Osawatomie, which gave him the name 
c c Osawatomie Brown. ? ? 


1856 (continued) 
December. Visited Boston, raised money, 
appeared before a committee of the 
Massachusetts legislature. 

April. Contracted at Collinsville, Con- 
necticut, for a thousand pikes. 
September. Assembled his personal fol- 
lowers at Tabor, Iowa, for military in- 
struction, and there held rifles and other 
munitions intended for Kansas. 

February 22. Disclosed to Gerrit Smith, 
F. B. Sanborn, and Thomas "Wentworth 
Higginson his plan for a raid in Virginia. 
May. Held a convention of negroes and 
whites at Chatham, Canada, which 
adopted his constitution for an insurrec- 
tionary movement, and elected him com- 
mander - in- chief. 
June 25. Eeturned to Kansas. 
December. Made a slave-liberating foray 
in Missouri. 


January - March. Conducted a small 
party of liberated Missouri slaves 
through the Northwestern States to 

July 3. Appeared at Harper's Ferry. 
Hired a farm near there. Assembled 
men and munitions. 
October 16. Attacked and captured Har- 
per's Ferry with his band. 
October 17. Was attacked by United 
States forces, wounded, and made pris- 

October 26. Placed on trial at Charles- 

November 2. Found guilty. 
December 2. John Brown died on the 



John Brown was born at Torrington, 
Connecticut, on the ninth day of May, 
1800, in a poor wooden house among the 
round Appalachian hills which the man 
loved, in a peculiar way, to the day 
of his death. His father, a tanner and 
shoemaker, had lived in that house and 
township but a year when John Brown 
was born; but in the country within 
the little circle made by Windsor, Can- 
ton, Norfolk, Litchfield, and Torring- 
ton, the father and all the folk had 
been born and bred, and their fathers 
before them. It was all a part of the 
same land of round hills and winding 
valleys, inhabited by the same hard- 
working and fiercely thinking people. 

Mr. W. E. Forster sums up well 
enough the story of Brown's ancestry 
when he says that he u was of the best 
blood in America." Some careful gene- 


alogists have thrown a little doubt upon 
his descent, as assumed by himself and 
by everybody else who has written 
about him, from Peter Brown, the car- 
penter, who came over in the Mayflower. 
I see no good reason to doubt this de- 
scent ; but it makes little difference 
whether his blood came down from this 
man or not. He was at least descended, 
like nearly all the people in his part of 
Connecticut, from the remarkable colony 
who settled Windsor, Connecticut, and 
who were in every way quite equal to 
the Mayflower group. They were an 
intensely pious and devoted band, care- 
fully chosen, man by man and woman 
by woman, u especially that their efforts 
might bring the Indians to the knowl- 
edge of the gospel. " Apostles every 
one of them, on their way over in the 
ship Mary and John they "had preach- 
ing and expounding the word of God 
every day for ten weeks together." 
They went on foot through the pathless 


forest from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to 
Windsor. They were five weeks on the 
way, and winter closed in on them be- 
fore their stuff and provisions could 
come up the Connecticut by boats; and 
then they starved and shivered and 
prayed and preached. Their sufferings 
are a part of the story of John Brown. 
These early apostles and martyrs were 
compressed into him. 

His grandfather was Captain John 
Brown of the Eevolutionary army, who 
died in the service in 1775. This grand- 
father's wife, Hannah Owen, was of 
Welsh descent. Our John Brown's 
father was Owen Brown, born in Canton, 
Connecticut, in 1771. His mother was 
Euth Mills, of Dutch descent ; but these 
mothers, as well as the fathers, were 
bred in the Yankee hills, and their 
blood was well mixed with that of the 
Puritan Yankees. John Brown, even 
with his dash of Dutch and Welsh blood, 
was a Yankee of the Yankees. 


Brown's mother, Euth Mills, was ; 
godly, sane woman, without a story 
His father, Owen Brown, emigrated ii 
1805 to Ohio, and there became a trus 
tee of Oberlin College. Hudson, th 
place where he settled, in the Westen 
Eeserve, was then in the midst of j 
wild country. There young John Brow] 
went to school to herdsmen and Indians 
learning of the herdsmen such master; 
of their trade that he drove great herd 
of cattle long distances alone at an earl; 
age, and of the Indians the arts of shoot 
ing and riding and dressing skins. H< 
did not learn here to hate the Indians, a 
other frontiersmen did, but learned in 
stead to love them ; and years afterwar( 
on the frontiers of Kansas they paid bacl 
his love with kind services. In his littL 
Autobiography, sent in 1857 to younj 
Harry Stearns of Medford, and writtei 
throughout in the third person, there i; 
a note which shows that sensibility wa: 
born in him : ""When John was in hi: 


Sixth year, a poor Indian boy gave him 
a, Yellow Marble, the first he had ever 
seen. This he thought a great deal of, 
and kept it a good while ; but at last he 
Lost it beyond recovery. It took years 
bo heal the wound, and I think he cried 
at times about it." 

He had a rough time in this "Uni- 
versity of the West," as Thoreau called 
his early life. He was dressed in buck- 
skin and furs, and spent long days in the 
^oods, with only cattle or sheep for his 
companions. He tells us that he was for 
itime "quite skeptical," but the Bible 
triumphed over all the other books that 
tie was able to read ; and he tells, too, 
3f having the "free use of a good 
library." He "joined the church" 
(Orthodox Congregational) at Hudson, 
Ohio, in 1816, and never wavered in his 
Puritan belief. He was, he tells us, 
"naturally fond of females" as a boy, 
yet "diffident in their company." We 
have evidence that in his mature life 


women were always strongly drawn to 
hini, but in no sentimental way. His 
life was unmarked by the faintest sug- 
gestion of an irregular attachment. 

He had next to no schooling. He 
went at the age of about sixteen to his 
birthplace in Connecticut, and it was 
then proposed to educate him for the 
ministry. He attended for a time the 
school of the Eev. Moses Hallock at 
Plainfield, Massachusetts, a school fa- 
mous for turning out preachers and mis- 
sionaries, and studied also at the Morris 
Academy in Connecticut. But his train- 
ing here was soon cut short by inflam- 
mation of the eyes, and he went back 
to Ohio and the tannery. With this 
schooling, and, no doubt, with much 
reading of old books and the Bible, 
he picked up an admirable epistolary 
style, clean cut and expressive, often 
eloquent, showing thought about words 
and fine discrimination in the use of 
them. His spelling was somewhat er- 


ratic, but, barring a too free use of 
capitals and peculiar punctuation, he 
could have written a sermon or leading 
article that would pass muster exceed- 
ingly well at the present day. He 
learned the tanner's and currier's trades, 
and was foreman in his father's tannery. 
He picked up, too, the surveyor's art, 
and became proficient in this, so that 
his surveys have stood the test of later 
scrutiny. But the real love of his heart 
was for the calling of the shepherd. 
Early in his life, he says, he had an 
" enthusiastic longing" for it; and in 
his later life he returned to it as often 
as he could. His casual memoranda 
indicated that he thought more about 
sheep than he did about anything else. 
Joined with this love was the kindred 
passion, which never left him, for fine 
cattle and horses. 

John Brown's mother died when he 
was eight years old. His father soon re- 
married, but John always mourned his 


own mother. He matured early, and as 
a young man was described as of re- 
markably fine and noble appearance. 
As his father had done before him, he 
married young, at the age of twenty; 
and he is said to have had previously 
one disappointment in love. His wife, 
Dianthe Lusk, lived to the age of thirty, 
having, in eleven years, borne him seven 
children. She is said to have died in a 
demented state ; and one or two of the 
children of this marriage apparently 
inherited from her a certain occasional 
mental weakness. Even in the early 
years of this marriage Brown followed 
Puritan and patriarchal ways, — con- 
ducting family worship, ruling his chil- 
dren firmly, instructing them at his 
knee, and singing hymns to them. 

In 1825 Brown was made postmaster 
at Eandolph, Pennsylvania, by President 
Jackson. He also established a tannery 
at that place, which he conducted evi- 
dently with some success. It was there 


that his first wife died, in 1832 ; and 
there that, a year afterward, he married 
Mary Anne Day, the faithful, devoted, 
wise and patient wife who survived him 
twenty-five years. She bore him thirteen 
children, seven of whom died very 

The large surviving family of chil- 
dren of these two marriages, as well as 
other persons who knew him, have left 
abundant memories of his life and char- 
acter. These represent him as head- 
strong, but humane and kind, possessing 
great tenderness and grave sweetness of 
manner, and exceedingly fond of his 
family. Though his children testify to 
his use of the rod on a few occasions, 
they affirm that he never applied it un- 
justly. He was fond of music and sing- 
ing. Sanborn says that he " sang a good 
part," and tells of seeing him weeping 
at a performance of Schubert's " Sere- 
nade." He taught a singing-school for 
a time at North Elba. He is said to 


have been u rather dull in speech," 
though when he was much interested he 
spoke fluently enough, in a resonant and 
somewhat metallic voice. He distrusted 
utterly his powers as a public speaker, 
though late in life he made several very 
creditable addresses, and could engage 
in religious exhortation. 

John Brown was a trifle less than six 
feet tall. He dressed neatly and plainly, 
in a somewhat rustic and sober render- 
ing of the fashion of the time. The best 
description of his personal appearance is 
Bronson Alcott's, made when Brown was 
fifty-nine years old: "Nature obviously 
was deeply intent in the making of him. 
He is of imposing appearance, personally, 
— tall, with square shoulders and stand- 
ing ; eyes of deep gray, and couchant, 
as if ready to spring at the least rustling, 
dauntless yet kindly ; his hair shooting 
backward from low down on his fore- 
head ; nose trenchant and Bomanesque ; 
set lips, his voice suppressed, yet metal- 


lie, suggesting deep reserves; decided 
mouth ; the countenance and frame 
charged with power throughout. ... I 
think him about the manliest man I 
have ever seen, — the type and synonym 
of the Just." Others described his eyes 
as "blue-gray," and Dana found him 
1 c dark-complexioned. ? ? Brown never 
wore the beard in which all the world 
now sees his face until his fifty- eighth 
year, when it helped him to a needed 
disguise in Kansas. One or two of his 
unbearded daguerreotypes make of him 
a grimmer, less intellectual Emerson. 
In the frontispiece of this book he is 
shown in the height of his wild period 
in Kansas, when fighting, exposure, and 
fever had rendered him somewhat hag- 
gard ; but the picture brings us nearer 
to the soul of the man, it seems to me, 
than any other does. 

Brown early began to shift about and 
show the wandering characteristics which 
afterward became so marked in him. In 


1835 lie went back to Ohio, took up 
the tanning business there, bought wool, 
raised fancy live-stock, including race- 
horses, speculated very indiscreetly in 
land, indorsed a note for a friend, failed 
disastrously, and in his bankruptcy at- 
tempted, in pursuance of a lawyer's 
advice, to hold a farm against which 
there was an attachment, and was ar- 
rested on a peace warrant and taken to 
Akron jail ; but the key does not appear 
actually to have been turned on him. 
He had pledged for his own benefit some 
twenty-eight hundred dollars put in his 
hands by the New England Woollen 
Company for the purchase of wool ; but 
this he made no secret of, and was not 
troubled on account of it by the com- 
pany, which still trusted him. He was 
all the rest of his life — and more, for 
he left fifty dollars for the purpose in 
his will — in paying up this debt. His 
friends and business men in general went 
on trusting him with large amounts of 


money, which, in two or three cases, he 
found it hard to repay. In 1840 he went 
to Virginia — the portion of it on the 
Ohio Biver, now in West Virginia — 
to survey some lands belonging to Ober- 
lin College, and fell completely in love 
with the country. From there he wrote 
to his family, "I have seen the spot 
where, if it be the will of Providence, 
I hope one day to live with my family. ?? 
These Virginia hills exercised upon 
Brown a fascination which made it 
easier, no doubt, for him to associate 
with them his subsequent revolutionary 

In 1844 he formed, with a substantial 
wool-grower and dealer, Simon Perkins, 
of Akron, Ohio, a partnership which 
continued for some years. Long after 
Brown's death, Perkins summed up his 
business qualifications thus: "He had 
little judgment, always followed his own 
will, and lost much money. I had no 
controversy with John Brown, for it 


would have done no good." Brown 
bought much wool, and had the care of 
the flocks of the firm. Perkins admits 
that he was an expert in grading wools. 
Indeed, as an instant and accurate clas- 
sifier of fleeces, he seems to have won 
an almost national reputation in the 

In 1846 he was sent to live at Spring- 
field, Massachusetts, as the agent of 
sheep farmers of northern Ohio, Penn- 
sylvania, New York, and Virginia. He 
graded and sold their wool for them 
direct to the manufacturers of New Eng- 
land. He lived at Springfield, with 
certain absences, some five years, carry- 
ing on a considerable business, which he 
finally brought to disaster by refusing 
what seemed to him too small a price 
offered for a large consignment of wool 
from the Ohio growers, and taking the 
wool to England in order to get a larger. 
There he obtained, instead of a better 
figure, only half the price which had 


been offered him in New England. 
This bankrupted him again, and really 
ended his commercial career. The very 
same wool which he carried to England 
was bought to be shipped back to 
America, and was so shipped. It was 
one of the most picturesque failures of 
a bold stroke of business on record. 

After this Brown removed with his 
family to North Elba, in the Adirondack 
mountains of northern New York, where 
he was interested in an experiment which 
Gerrit Smith, the rich abolitionist and 
philanthropist, was making in the set- 
tling of negroes on wild land. 

North Elba continued to be the home 
of Brown's family until after his death, 
though he himself lived there very little. 
The wanderings of his apostolate, fol- 
lowing his mercantile travels, had now 
begun. Thenceforth he farmed and 
shepherded here and there to supply 
his own and his family's immediate 
needs. There are indications, in his 


abounding correspondence, that lie had 
sometimes dreamed, in the years before 
1850, of making a fortune in business; 
but after that it is clear that he had 
quite another end in view. 


AVhat made John Brown an aooli- 
tionist, and when and why did his abo- 
litionism take its strenuous, militant, 
and peculiar form ? The psychology of 
his apostleship is a strange and interest- 
ing study. He was never in the current 
of the anti-slavery movement. Though 
we shall see that he regarded himself, 
and that his family regarded him, as 
devoted in a special way to negro eman- 
cipation, there is no documentary evi- 
dence, no proof from the man's own 
letters or written memoranda or acts, 
that the movement u took hold of him ?? 
at all actively before his fiftieth year. 
That he was deeply sympathetic with 
the enslaved blacks all his life is per- 
fectly incontestable, and that he felt 
himself especially devoted to the cause 
of their liberation as far back as 1837 we 
know on the testimony of his wife and 


For that matter he was born an abo- 
litionist. His father had been one before 
him. The motive-spring of John Brown 7 s 
abolitionism was touched in the year 
1790, when the Eev. Samuel Hopkins, 
of Ehode Island, a man whose opposition 
to negro slavery was practical and well 
known, and who was one of the earliest 
of the abolitionists, visited the Eev. 
Jeremiah Hallock at Canton, Connec- 
ticut. Young Owen Brown (John 
Brown's father), then nineteen years 
old, lived with Hallock, probably as a 
sort of privileged helper, and heard 
Hopkins talk against negro slavery, 
" denouncing it as a great sin." Hop- 
kins was a man of native power. He 
made a life convert of young Owen 
Brown, who afterward taught his own 
children abolitionism at his knee. There 
had been a chance for the development 
in the boy John Brown of the bent which 
gave rise to the touching incident so 
vividly related in his own autobiograph- 


ical letter to young Harry Stearns, al- 
ready referred to, written in 1857 : 
"During the war with England [1812- 
1815] a circumstance occurred that in 
the end made him a most determined 
abolitionist, and led him to declare, or 
swear, eternal war with slavery. He 
was staying for a short time with a very 
gentlemanly landlord, since a United 
States marshal, who held a slave boy 
near his own age, — very active, intelli- 
gent and good feeling, — and to whom 
John was under obligations for numer- 
ous little acts of kindness. The master 
made a great pet of John, — brought 
him to table with his first company and 
friends, called their attention to every 
little smart thing he said or did, and to 
the fact of his being more than a hun- 
dred miles from home with a company 
of cattle alone; while the negro boy 
(who was fully, if not more than his 
equal) was badly clothed, poorly fed 
and lodged in cold weather, and beaten 


before his eyes with iron shovels or any- 
thing that came first to hand. This 
brought John to reflect on the wretched, 
hopeless condition of fatherless and 
motherless slave children ; for such 
children have neither fathers nor mothers 
to protect and provide for them. He 
sometimes would raise the question, Is 
God their father !» 

John Brown, Jr., born in 1821, says 
that his own earliest recollection is of his 
father sheltering runaway slaves. "While 
he was postmaster at Eandolph, Pennsyl- 
vania, John Brown made his house a 
refuge for such runaways, and in a letter 
to his brother Frederick, in 1834, he un- 
folded a scheme for procuring the adop- 
tion in Northern families of "negro boys 
or youth, " who were to be brought up 
as the children of these families were, 
and educated with them. "Christian 
slaveholders were to be prevailed upon, 
if possible, to release slave boys for this 
purpose. " Failing such means, Brown 


said, "We have all agreed to submit 
to considerable privation to buy one." 
In this letter he wrote, "If the young 
blacks of our country could once become 
enlightened, it would most assuredly 
operate on slavery like firing powder 
confined in a rock." All this was very 
peaceful. Brown was evidently reflect- 
ing on Nat Turner's poor insurrection in 
1831, and the numerous other attempts 
up to that time, all of which had failed 
for the want of adherence on the part of 
the blacks themselves to the movements 
stirred up in their behalf. Very evi- 
dently, he saw that the time had not yet 
come to attack slavery by force, — that 
the negroes themselves must be prepared 
for it. 

After Brown returned to Ohio to live, 
he was a member of the Congregational 
church at Franklin. He had a re- 
spectable negro man and woman work- 
ing for him. They sat at his table, and 
on Sunday he took the pair into his pew. 


The preacher and congregation angrily 
objected to this. Brown left the church 
on account of it ; and though he was all 
his life a devout Calvinist, conducting 
family worship daily and sometimes 
u exhorting " in public, he never be- 
longed to another church. This cer- 
tainly shows that at this period there 
was no want of earnestness in his devo- 
tion to the blacks. 

In 1837 there occurred the episode 
which first indicated Brown's intention 
to attack slavery vi et armis. His chil- 
dren have testified that in that year he 
assembled them one day at family prayer, 
swore them all to work with him for the 
emancipation of the slaves, and, kneeling 
on the floor, invoked the blessing of God 
on the undertaking. There is no reason 
to believe that either Brown or his chil- 
dren forgot this compact. He seems 
never to have reminded his sons of it, 
nor to have been under the necessity of 
doing so. His children were not relig- 


ious in the way lie was religious. They 
were, for the most part, inclined to free 
thought ; and their disinclination to make 
a profession of religion gave him great 
sorrow. He never, in his letters, ceased 
to implore them to do so. They did not 
in the least depend for the seconding of 
their devotion to him in this anti-slavery 
work upon the invocation of a kind of 
religious ceremony. They were quite 
ready to give up their lives at the in- 
spiration of their own sense of duty and 
their strong personal loyalty and devo- 
tion to their father. 

After this solemn pledge, Brown went 
on with his wool business and his farm- 
ing, travelled almost incessantly between 
East and West, and set down in his little 
memorandum book many recipes for cur- 
ing diseases of sheep, and some wise saws, 
but never a word applicable to the cause 
of the blacks. He sent home scores of 
letters, many of which have been pre- 
served carefully ; and in them there is 


much connected with, his business and 
with the farming and stock-raiSing oper- 
ations at home, and much about religion 
and morality. But until a much later 
date there is nothing in them about the 
slaves. He went to Boston in 1838, but 
is not known to have visited any of the 
abolitionists, though from his Virginia 
prison, years afterward, he wrote: "I 
once set myself to oppose a mob in Bos- 
ton where she [Lucretia Mott] was. 
The meeting was, I think, in Marl- 
borough street Church.' 7 The Marl- 
borough chapel was burned in May, 
1838. His note-book contains seven 
Boston business addresses, and memo- 
randa of business undertakings. There 
is no reason to suppose that he ever 
took or read the Liberator, and in all 
that he ever wrote I discover but a sin- 
gle reference to any one of the great 
abolitionist leaders of New England. 

He had in him, in business matters, 
a bit of native Yankee craft. A letter 

jomsr brown 25 

of admonition to his son John when this 
young man went into the business of 
buying wool warns him against all the 
dishonest wiles of the sellers of wool, 
and coaches him in some of the careful 
tactics of the buyers. 

I have mentioned his trip to Europe 
in 1849. While he was there, he did 
some highly unsuccessful wool business, 
as we have seen, wrote home to his son 
something about the live-stock, the mut- 
ton, the architecture and habits of the 
English, but had never a word to say 
about the English friends of the blacks 
and their work. He made a hasty trip 
to the Continent, and there, as he after- 
ward told Mr. Sanborn, made some study 
of military matters, and visited some of 
Napoleon's battlefields. He "had fol- 
lowed the military career of Napoleon 
with great interest/' —that is evident 
from all his children's account of his 
reading,— and he even ventured to criti- 
cise Bonaparte in some points. Brown 


liad acquired, undoubtedly deriving the 
idea in the first instance from the Bible 
story of Gideon's sifting of his five-and- 
twenty thousand men down to three hun- 
dred, a view greatly in favor of small 
and extremely mobile bodies of men. 
He had made as close study as his 
opportunities permitted of the art of 
intrenching such small bodies of men 
and fortifying their positions. But he 
certainly never had practical knowledge 
of any other form of warfare than the 
guerilla campaigning which he practised 
in Kansas. 


Fkedekick Douglass says that Brown 
unfolded to him in 1847 a plan for insur- 
rectionary work among the negroes, with 
headquarters in the Virginia mountains. 
This is another indication, one of many, 
that he entertained the insurrectionary 
purpose. But his plans remained in 
abeyance. His later and active interest 
in the anti-slavery cause seems to have 
flashed up into a sudden flame about 
the year 1850. From that time for- 
ward his letters abound with references 
to the subject, his memorandum book 
contains entries associated with his work 
in that field, and the motive becomes 
clearly apparent in his acts. Did 
Brown's discovery of his own unfit- 
ness to be a man of business help him 
to see more clearly his way toward de- 
voting the remainder of his life to the 
freeing of the blacks ? Did he conceive 
an ambition to be a great liberator, and 


acquire world-wide fame as the Moses of 
a whole people ! I suppose that an in- 
quiry whether Brown was ever animated 
by a personal ambition for power or 
fame would be entirely fair, especially 
since, as ambitions go, a purpose to 
attain power or fame in this way would 
surely be a worthy one. 

For that matter the question would 
seem to be easily answered. A man 
who is at once meditative, intense, and 
fond of reading as Brown was, and yet 
uneducated in the liberal sense, is made 
by his books. What books did Brown 
read? Dana found that he had many 
in his Adirondack cabin. His daughter 
has written : " My dear father's favorite 
books of a historical character were 
Bollin's Ancient History, Josephus, 
Plutarch's Lives, l Napoleon and his 
Marshals,' and the Life of Oliver 
Cromwell. Of religious books, Baxter's 
' Saint's Best' (in speaking of which at 
one time he said he could not see how 


any person could read it through care- 
fully without becoming a Christian), the 
c Pilgrim's Progress/ and Henry 'On 
Meekness.' But above all others the 
Bible was his favorite volume, and he 
had such a perfect knowledge of it that 
when any one was reading it he would 
correct the least mistake. ? ' The daugh- 
ter appends a list of his favorite passages 
in the Bible. Nearly all of them refer 
to the poor and to ' ' them that are in 
bonds. ' ' He was fond of the Apocrypha, 
and doubtless had pleasure in the war- 
like deeds therein reported. His daughter 
records that one of his favorite hymns 
was u With songs and honors sounding 
loud/ 7 and another, "Blow ye the trum- 
pet. " But there is one point, one item 
of his Scriptural reading, which affords 
us a special insight. One of his com- 
panions at Harper's Ferry, John B. 
Cook, who had lived closely with him 
for a long time, has left the statement 
that "the Bible story of Gideon had a 


great influence on Brown.' 7 It is mani- 
fest tliat it had. If we read this fine 
story in the book of Judges in the light of 
Brown's long brooding over the Script- 
ures, and also in the light of his sub- 
sequent career and acts, noting as we 
go his organization of the League of 
Gileadites among the negroes, we find 
that we can understand Brown much 
better than we could without this 
knowledge. The story fired his intense 
spirit and prompted his actions again 
and again. He belonged to the epoch 
of Gideon rather than to the nineteenth 

That he aspired to do for the blacks 
what Gideon did for the children of 
Israel does not prove that he was actuated 
by personal ambition. It indicates the 
stirring of a sentiment in him which 
was something like personal ambition ; 
yet, if he really had a dream of earthly 
fame and greatness, he suppressed it, and 
acted as if he had no such dream. In a 


great measure he separated himself from 
nien, and carried on his work alone. In 
spite of his magnificent moral strength 
and the fact that all the men who came 
close to him, after the anti-slavery move- 
ment fully fired hiin, at once recognized 
his power, he never had above twenty- 
two men attached to his cause and per- 
son ! Here was the sifting process of 
Gideon carried farther than Gideon car- 
ried it. The thing which we ordi- 
narily call ambition should, first of all, 
have sent him on his revolutionary way 
earlier ; and after that it should have 
put into him at least something of the 
craft which wins crowds. 

In Springfield, Brown either fell in 
with, or else assembled, a circle of col- 
ored men, part of them refugees from 
slavery, and others presumably the 
bright Northern mulattoes who were 
eager to do what they could for the free- 
dom of their brothers in the South, 
though apparently they could not bring 


themselves to anything really revolu- 
tionary. One of these men, a refugee 
from Maryland, named Thomas Thomas, 
worked for Brown as porter in his wool 
warehouse. Thomas declares that at the 
very outset of his employment in the 
warehouse Brown communicated to him 
the general features of a scheme to liber- 
ate the slaves by force, and asked him 
to join the enterprise. This was early 
in 1846. Much doubt has been cast 
upon the accuracy of Thomas's recollec- 
tion. But Brown was sometimes un- 
fathomable, and he may have seen some- 
thing in this negro porter which led him 
to reveal more of his inner thoughts to 
him than he had ever revealed to any 
one else. 

I have already mentioned the scheme 
of Gerrit Smith to give a hundred thou- 
sand acres of Adirondack land to negro 
people who should settle upon and culti- 
vate small farms on the tract. It was 
a foolish idea ; for latitude and alti- 


tude made these lands the most arctic 
spot, of an equal area, within the proper 
limits of the United States. Neither 
maize nor wheat will thrive there. The 
lands are rough and sterile. No place 
more unfit for the colonization of the 
soft and unenterprising blacks could 
have been found. But Smith's scheme 
instantly attracted Brown's sympathy. 
Loving these hills so much, they also 
drew him to them of their own force. 
The shepherd of other days, homesick 
for the hills and the soil, saw in Smith's 
scheme a chance to do good to the ne- 
groes, while he himself returned to the 
life he loved best. He visited Mr. 
Smith, proposed to take up some of the 
land for himself and his children, and to 
guide and superintend the work of the 
black colony. Smith promptly accepted 
his services ; and in 1848 and 1849, 
without as yet giving up his business at 
Springfield, Brown moved his family 
into a rude cabin in those great North 


Woods, at a place called — whether or 
not as the result of Brown's partiality 
for Napoleon I do not know — North 
Elba. Here Brown's wife and youngest 
children continued to live until 1864. 
He himself spent most of his time at 
Springfield or elsewhere, with occa- 
sional visits to the North Elba farm. 
The life there was pioneering of a sort 
only less stern than that which Brown 
and his sons entered upon subsequently 
in Kansas. He found the work of coach- 
ing negroes in Northern agriculture quite 
discouraging, and apparently had to take 
several of these people into his own 
cabin. Charles A. Dana, on a visit 
there, found several negroes at Brown's 
table, to whom he was introduced in 
due form: "Mr. Dana, Mr. Jefferson; 
Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Dana," and so on. 
There was never any hypocrisy in Brown, 
in this regard or any other : the negro 
at his board was the equal of any guest. 
All this and more Brown could do for 


the negro. But up to this time we do 
not see him preparing or threatening an 
armed conflict. And the very first plain 
reference in his correspondence to the 
great movement which had for years 
engrossed many great minds occurs in 
a letter from Springfield, Massachusetts, 
to his wife at North Elba, dated Nov. 28, 
1850. It is important as marking a 
turning-point in Brown's life, and it is 
also so curiously like him in its diction 
and matter that it is worth quoting : — 

" Dear Wife, — . . . Since leaving home 
I have thought that, under all the cir- 
cumstances of doubt attending the time 
of our removal, and the possibility that 
we may not remove at all, I had perhaps 
encouraged the boys to feed out the 
potatoes too freely. ... I want to have 
them very careful to have no hay or 
straw wasted, but I would have them 
use enough straw in bedding the cattle 
to keep them from lying in the mire. 
I heard from Ohio a few days since ; 


all were then well. It now seems that 
the Fugitive Slave Law was to be the 
means of making more abolitionists than 
all the lectures that we have had for 
years. It really looks as if God had his 
hand on this wickedness also. I of 
course keep encouraging my colored 
friends to 6 trust in God and keep their 
powder dry.' I did so to-day, at 
Thanksgiving meeting, publicly. . . . 
While here, and at almost all places 
where I stop, I am treated with all 
kindness and attention ; but it does not 
make home. I feel lonely and restless, 
no matter how neat and comfortable my 
room and bed, nor how richly loaded 
may be the table ; they have few charms 
for me, away from home. I can look 
back to our log cabin at the centre of 
Eichfield, with supper of porridge and 
Johnny-cake, as a place of far more in- 
terest to me than the Massasoit of Spring- 

This leads me to the reflection that 


Brown, in the matter of abstemiousness, 
was somewhat idealized by Emerson and 
Thoreau, who met him when he was at 
the stage of his highest exaltation in the 
anti-slavery work and fresh from the 
fields and camps of Kansas. All they 
said of him was true, I have no doubt ; 
yet it was hardly true of his whole life. 
Brown always lived very plainly ; and 
his house and table at Springfield, at the 
time when money was most plentiful with 
him, were extremely simple. Yet he 
was normally fond of good viands. His 
household diet, though so simple, con- 
sisted largely of meat; and the praise 
that he sent home of the English mutton, 
when he was abroad, could only have 
come from a man who knew good mut- 
ton. Though absolutely temperate, he 
was not a total abstainer, and kept wine 
in his house for cases of illness. Red- 
path, who was not careful, says Brown 
u never drank spirits. " Sanborn, who 
is careful, says he u seldom drank 


spirits. v He had a way, when travel- 
ling on business, of putting up at the 
best hotels. He seems to have been, in 
fact, a sane, sound, sensible man in most 
of these material particulars, and not at 
all inclined to eccentric notions. The 
hasty way in which he has been ideal- 
ized, as if his fame were likely to be 
increased by representing him as sub- 
jecting himself to petty and unnecessary 
martyrdoms, is amusingly illustrated by 
the frequent statement that he was so 
habitually abstemious and unaccustomed 
to luxuries that he refused to eat butter 
on his bread. The fact was that he 
never liked butter and cheese, and could 
not eat them. Sanborn relates that as a 
boy, ten years old, he was once sent on 
an errand to a place where a lady gave 
him a piece of bread and butter. He 
dared not tell her that he could not eat 
butter ; but "as soon as he was out of the 
house he ran as fast as he could for a 
long time, and then threw the bread and 
butter out of sight. ? ? 


Brown had now (1850) ten children, 
seven of whom were sons. He had lost, 
to his deep and evident sorrow, seven 
children, all of whom had died in in- 
fancy or early childhood. Two more 
were yet to be born. His older sons he 
had educated simply ; the eldest, John 
Jr., with some care at good schools. His 
faithful wife taught the little ones at the 
cabin at North Elba. Brown for a time 
went out to Ohio and engaged in farm- 
ing, where he could get more money for 
his labor than in the Adirondack hills. 

But before he left Springfield, in 1851, 
he wrote a letter of instruction to the 
" branch of the United States League 
of Gileadites" there, — a band of his 
colored fellow- conspirators against slav- 
ery, — which proves definitely enough 
that he had taken up with a thoroughly 
revolutionary doctrine. Mason's Fugi- 
tive Slave Act had been passed, and the 
hunting down of negro fugitives had 
begun in Massachusetts. Brown was now 


fully aroused. He told these negroes, 
in a manuscript document still extant, 
that they were fully justified in resisting 
any law which tried to send them back 
into slavery. His pronunciamento is a 
strange mixture of the principles of the 
Carbonari and Eavachol and the lan- 
guage of the Hebrew Scriptures. The 
reference to Mount Gilead and the 
suggestion for the name of the society 
are from his own great Bible story of 
Gideon : — 

u Should one of your number be 
arrested, you must collect together as 
quickly as possible so as to outnumber 
your adversaries who are taking an 
active part against you. Let no able- 
bodied man appear on the ground un- 
equipped or with his weapons exposed 
to view. . . . Your plans must be known 
only to yourself, and with the under- 
standing that all traitors must die where- 
ever caught and proven to be guilty. 
'Whosoever is fearful or afraid, let 


hiin return and part early from Mount 
Gilead ? (Judges vii. 3 : Deuteronomy 
xx. 8). . . . Do not delay one moment 
after you are ready : you will lose all your 
resolution if you do. Let the first bloio be 
the signal for all to engage, and, when en- 
gaged, do not do your work by halves, but 
make clean work with your enemies. . . . By 
going about your business quietly, you 
will get the job disposed of before the 
number that an uproar would bring to- 
gether can collect. . . . You may make 
a tumult in the court-room where a trial 
is going on by burning gunpowder freely 
in paper packages, if you cannot think 
of any better way to create a momentary 
alarm, and might possibly give one or more 
of your enemies a hoist." 

Brown seems to have hoped to unite 
the negroes all over the country, now or 
afterward, in this revolutionary move- 
ment; but he failed. There is no sign 
that they ever anywhere followed his 
words of advice. Yet he was not igno- 


rant of the weaknesses of the African 
race. He published about this time, in 
an abolitionist paper called the Barn's 
Horn, a clever satire on the negro 
character, entitled " Sambo's Mistakes. " 
The manuscript is still preserved, in 
Brown's undoubted handwriting. It was 
evidently intended for an admonition. 
Or did it merely express a great misgiv- 
ing with regard to the negro race which 
had entered Brown's intuitively working 
mind ! It represents Sambo as shallow, 
vain, "fond of joining societies," bound 
to spend his money and remain poor, 
disputatious about things of no moment, 
tenacious of small points of difference, 
fond of gewgaws, self-indulgent, obse- 
quious to the whites, and more inclined 
to fight over religious tenets than for his 
own liberty. 

" Sambo's Mistakes" is said to be 
Brown's longest literary composition. 
It is surely a little masterpiece in its 
way. It has a certain prophetic value, 


too : the abolitionists of that day were 
so sure that the negroes needed only to 
be made free to be fitted for freedom ! 
At this late day, we who are the chil- 
dren of the ardent abolitionists of that 
earlier period can only sigh when we 
read such a glorious paean as Emerson's 
address, Aug. 1, 1844, at the first an- 
niversary of the emancipation of the 
negroes of the British West Indies. 
He joyfully took it for granted that 
the blacks of Jamaica and Barbados 
had already successfully taken up the 
burden of civilization with perfect in- 
dustry and perfect quietness, and that 
"all disqualifications and distinctions of 
color had ceased" ; and, in following 
the notion of Swedenborg as to the 
spiritual superiority of the African, he 
said: "I esteem the occasion of this 
jubilee to be the proud discovery that 
the black race can contend with the 
white ; that, in the great anthem which 
we call history, a piece of many parts 


and vast compass, after playing a long 
time a very low and subdued acconi- 
paniment, they perceive the time ar- 
rived when they can strike in with effect 
and take a master's part in the music. 
The civility of the world has reached 
that pitch that their more than moral 
genius is becoming indispensable, and 
the quality of this race is to be honored 
for itself." 

Alas ! is there a keener sorrow than 
for the children of the men who held 
this hope, and lived and died upon it, 
to have to ask themselves, Has the negro 
question been changed in any essential 
respect by emancipation and enfranchise- 
ment ? Have those great things done 
any good to a people who could not do 
the good for themselves ? 

The misgiving expressed by Brown 
himself in this clever little essay on 
" Sambo's Mistakes" is, to me, a proof 
of his clear intuition. The fact that he 
utterly disregarded the suspicion in his 


life and work is a proof that his idealism 
was perfect. He inarched straight on 
with his simple purpose, arguing no 
more, but living out his frank accept- 
ance of his own doctrine. Events soon 
made a veritable scourge, a man of 
weapons and bloodshed, out of this 
peaceable shepherd, this thrifty buyer 
and expert sorter of fleeces. 

His sons John, Jason, Owen, Fred- 
erick, and Salmon went to Kansas, as 
settlers in good faith, in 1854 and 1855. 
Their emigration was hard, painful, full 
of privations. Jason's boy, four years 
old, died on the way. They took with 
them almost no weapons, but as many 
tools, fruit-trees, and grape-vines as they 
could carry. There seems to have been 
in the removal no prompting of their 
father nor any distinctly warlike inten- 
tion on their own part. Brown had 
written to his son John, when the boys 
were talking of going : "If you or any 
of my family are disposed to go to 


Kansas or Nebraska with a view to help 
defeat Satan and his legions in that di- 
rection, I have not a word to say ; but 
I feel committed to operate in another 
part of the field." Just what he meant 
by this last reference can only be 
guessed. Sanborn believes that he was 
already thinking of Virginia ; and San- 
born knew the man well at that time, 
and has gone more deeply into his life 
than any other writer. The sons u lo- 
cated " not far from a place called Osa- 
watoniie, and lived first in tents, then 
in rude huts. Fever and hunger over- 
took them. They were near the border 
of Missouri, and at the very seat of the 
struggle between the Pro-slavery and 
Free State influences. 

The issue there was simply this. Kan- 
sas had lately been opened to settlement. 
Although slavery within the territory 
had, as was supposed, been forever pro- 
hibited by the Missouri Compromise of 
1820, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 


established what was known as u Squat- 
ter Sovereignty " ; that is, it empowered 
the settlers to determine by majority 
vote whether the Territory should be 
slave or free. So the opposing forces 
in the great controversy, practically the 
North against the South, set themselves 
to determine the future of Kansas by 
settling the Territory with their own 
people and followers. Northerners and 
Southerners as they came in — "Free 
State" the ones, u Pro-slavery ' ? the 
others — confronted each other with hos- 
tility. It was really war from the start. 
In this war the Brown brothers soon 
found themselves involved ; and John, 
Jr., wrote back to his father to pro- 
cure and send to them arms fit to fight 
with. They also soon asked him to 
come and help them. He answered 
that he might like to go ; but his agri- 
cultural affairs were in such a state that 
he could not do so unless he could sell 
some cattle and get pay for some others 


that he had sold. On the contrary, he 
removed from Ohio back to North Elba. 
On his way he attended an anti-slavery 
convention at Syracuse, New York, 
June 28, 1855. Here, and at this date, 
his war with force and arms really 
began ; for he raised some money from 
Gerrit Smith and others with which to 
arm u his sons and other friends in Kan- 
sas. " He spent some of the money for 
rifles, and sent them on. 

Brown himself went to Kansas in Sep- 
tember, 1855, travelling in a wagon be- 
yond the Mississippi. He wrote pictur- 
esque accounts of the journey to his wife 
and children at North Elba. I note this 
natural touch in one letter by the way : 
"We fare very well on crackers, her- 
ring, boiled eggs, prairie chicken, tea, 
and sometimes a little milk. Have three 
chickens now cooking for our breakfast. 
We shoot enough of them on the wing 
as we go along to supply us with fresh 
meat. Oliver succeeds in bringing them 


down quite as well as any of us." This 
boy Oliver, one of his second wife's chil- 
dren, w^as then sixteen years old, and 
no doubt was to the mother as the apple 
of her eye ; and the reference is a pretty 
one. Oliver was killed fighting at Har- 
per's Ferry four years later. Brown 
liked this sort of life and travel as well 
as any Indian or gypsy that ever lived. 
Farther on in the same letter he said, 
u With all the comforts we have along our 
journey, I think, could I hope in any 
other way to answer the end of my 
being, I would be quite content to be at 
North Elba." And from now on we 
shall not miss references to his liberating 


Arrived in Kansas in October, 1855, 
Brown went actively to work at break- 
ing up the soil. All his people had 
fever and ague. The cold and stormy 
winter was spent wretchedly in a tent 
banked about with earth. Brown's wife 
and little children, for their part, were 
living at North Elba in a cold house, and 
suffering much. Brown wrote pityingly 
to his wife, and said, "May God abun- 
dantly reward all your sacrifices for 
the cause of humanity ! ' ? The patient 
woman was content. About him there 
were frequent killings of Free State 
men by the " Border Buffians," and 
Brown was soon involved hotly in the 
Free State men's reprisals. The Emi- 
grant Aid Company of New England 
were sending settlers into Kansas with 
the object of outnumbering and out- 
voting the Pro-slavery settlers. They 
also sent rifles out to help their settlers 


make some headway against the Mis- 
sourians, who did not come as settlers, 
but rode across the line into the terri- 
tory to vote fraudulently, to shoot and 
rob, and to ride back to the security of 
their homes in a slave State. Brown 
bestirred himself promptly against these 
invaders, and in December, 1855, was 
made captain of a band organized to 
resist a Missourians' raid on the Free 
State town of Lawrence. The raiders 
were repulsed ignominiously, after kill- 
ing one settler. Brown described in a 
letter to his wife the heart-rending scene 
when the wife of the murdered man, 
whose body the Free State men had 
found, was brought in to see him. 

In a letter written in February, 1856, 
Brown showed that he had no respect 
for the federal authority, which was 
doing its best to bolster up the slavery 
cause in Kansas. "We hear," he said, 
"that Frank Pierce means to crush the 
men of Kansas. I do not know how 


well lie may succeed ; but I think lie 
may find his hands full before it is all 
over." Brown had at times in his life 
— very few the times were, as must be 
admitted — expressed some veneration 
for the Constitution and the flag ; but, 
when these got in the way of his purpose 
and his conscience, the President became 
u Frank Pierce" and nothing more, and 
the flag had little respect from him. He 
certainly did his best in Kansas to bring 
on a clash with the federal arms ; and 
it is worth noting that in March, 1856, 
the abolitionist Congressman from Ohio, 
John B. Giddings, wrote to him urging 
that such a clash be brought about, and 
asserting that it u would light up the 
fires of civil war throughout the North. 77 
There is reason to believe that this was 
what Brown had already desired, be- 
lieving firmly that nothing would bring 
about negro emancipation but an armed 
conflict. There was a conservative party 
among the Free State men in Kansas ; 


and those conservatives soon became 
aware that they had among them an 
extremist in Old John Brown — as he 
began to be called for the sake of dis- 
tinction, since his son John, who had 
been elected a member of the Free State 
legislature, was acquiring prominence, 
and was inclined to more moderate views 
than his father. 

There were now two legislatures in the 
Territory, one Free State and the other 
Pro-slavery, each accusing the other of 
unlawful usurpation. Bands of armed 
men representing both sides had gone 
into camp. Brown himself took to rang- 
ing and bushwhacking, and acquired a 
reputation for cool, brave, and clever 
exploits. One of the neatest of these 
was his marching, with one or two of 
the youngest of his boys, in May, 1856, 
into the camp of a large body of armed 
Pro-slavery fighters fresh from the South. 
He carried a surveyor's tripod and chain. 
He " sighted a line" through the centre 


of their camp, and with his sons began 
chaining the distance. The pro-slavery 
band supposed him to be a govern- 
ment surveyor, and, consequently, a Pro- 
slavery man ; and they did not interfere. 
Brown counted them, and noted their 
strength. More than that, he engaged 
them in conversation, and got out of 
them the betrayal of a plan for a raid on 
" Old Brown and his gang " ! 

There was a good deal of pretence of 
law, and a good deal of invocation of 
the u sacred authority of the United 
States," on the part of the Pro-slavery 
authorities in Missouri and Kansas at 
this time, but no real law. The lives of 
Brown and his sons were threatened by 
men who were perfectly capable of 
taking them. A Pro-slavery grand 
jury "indicted" the Free State Hotel 
at Lawrence, which the abolitionists had 
turned into a sort of fortress, and sent a 
posse, under a United States deputy mar- 
shal, to destroy it. On May 22, Brown 


and others, with one small company of 
mounted men, and John Brown, Jr., 
with another, started to the defence of 
this building and of Lawrence ; but 
to Brown's great disgust the Lawrence 
people decided to make no resistance to 
a United States officer, and the place 
was ravaged. Brown was further in- 
furiated by the refusal of the people 
at Osawatomie to make a brave stand 
against the Missourians. Beyond doubt 
he reached the conclusion that a blow of 
desperate violence must be struck to 
arouse the people and overcome the ten- 
dency which he saw on the part of the 
Free State people to temporize, to waver. 
He also, doubtless, believed his own life 
to be in danger. 

Getting together a small party of 
trusted men, John Brown went on the 
night of May 24 to the shores of Potta- 
watomie creek, where lived several Pro- 
slavery men who had terrorized the 
neighborhood. He called them one by 


one out of their beds, and put five of 
them to death, — not with his own hands, 
but with those of men who obeyed his 
command. This deed was committed 
near a place called Dutch Henry's Cross- 
ing, after one of the men whom Brown 

Brown had not the smallest doubt that 
he was directed by Providence in these 
1 c executions, ? ? as he called them ; though 
he never sought to evade his personal re- 
sponsibility for them, and talked of 
them as being committed in cold blood. 
The party did not kill all they took, but 
carried off several as prisoners. There 
is a Kansas legend, ben trovato at least, 
that, on the morning after the Potta- 
watomie executions, Brown called his fol- 
lowers and his captives together for di- 
vine worship in his camp, and raised to 
Heaven in fervent invocation hands to 
which still clung the dried blood of his 
victims of the night. Sanborn notes in 
this terrible deed the evident prompting 


of the story of Gideon's night exploit in 
overthrowing the altar of Baal. The 
killings were certainly committed in true 
Biblical fashion, — with rude curved 
swords "niade like the Boman short- 
sword, ' ? which Brown himself had car- 
ried to Kansas from Akron, Ohio, where 
they had belonged to a militia artillery 
company then disbanded. Brown had 
previously had the swords fastened on 
sticks to use as pikes, but for this occa- 
sion he had separated them from the 
sticks and ground them to a good edge. 
Brown evidently had a sort of Berserker 
fondness for a good blade, as two or three 
subsequent incidents in his life proved. 
• This fearful deed on the Pottawatomie 
sent a thrill of horror through the whole 
country. The Free State leaders repudi- 
ated and condemned it, but before long 
admitted that it was putting backbone 
into their people. Terror was certainly 
struck into the Pro -slavery ranks. It 
soon became perfectly well known that 


Brown was the author of the deed. The 
Missourians waited until he and his sons 
were all absent in the direction of Law- 
rence, and swooped down on their 
houses, burning them to the ground. 
The federal military authorities also be- 
stirred themselves ; and John, Jr., and 
Jason were taken prisoners by them, and 
kept in chains for some time. The 
younger John Brown had, from anxi- 
ety, from horror at the thought of his 
father having committed the Pottawa- 
tomie murders, joined very likely with 
a tendency inherited from his mother, 
become temporarily insane. Meantime 
John Brown the elder, with nine men, 
and one Captain Shore, with eigh- 
teen, encountered and attacked, on 
June 2, in a ravine at a place called 
Black Jack, a considerable force of 
Pro-slavery men under a Virginian 
named H. Clay Pate. There was a 
fierce fight, with Brown in command 
on the Free State side. Through ma- 


nceuvring, some wounds, and evidently 
some running away, Brown's force 
was reduced to nine, including himself ; 
and to these nine men Pate and twenty- 
one well-armed men soon surrendered 
unconditionally. It was an astonish- 
ingly brilliant little victory. All of 
Pate's men laid down their arms on the 
ground for these nine Free State men to 
pick up, and were marched off into cap- 
tivity after the signing of an agreement 
with Brown that an exchange of prison- 
ers was to be effected, man for man, until 
all the Free State men held by the 
authorities were liberated ; and John 
Brown caused it to be specified that 
his sons were to be the first men ex- 

A picturesque story concerning this 
battle has been told me by Mrs. George 
L. Stearns, of Medford, widow of the 
wealthy merchant of Boston who sup- 
plied Brown with a great part of the 
funds which enabled him to do his cam- 


paigning. In 1859, on the occasion of 
his very last visit before the Harper's 
Ferry raid, — when, in fact, he was start- 
ing for that final desperate adventure, — 
Brown was leaving Mr. Stearns's house. 
He paused near the door, bent down, 
and drew something from his boot-leg. 
"I shall very likely never return, Mr. 
Stearns," he said; "and I wish to give 
you a little personal memento of my- 
self." He handed out a remarkably 
fine bowie-knife which he gave to Mr. 
Stearns, at the same time telling its 
story ; this knife is still in Mrs. Stearns's 
possession ; it is a large, beautiful, and 
well-balanced blade, broad, yet tapering 
neatly to a sharp point ; it is of English 
make. It had been bought, Brown said, 
by a subscription, for Jefferson Buford, 
and, when that Southern chieftain had 
been discomfited in Kansas and his band 
scattered, he had passed it on to the 
Virginian Clay Pate, with the injunc- 
tion that it was to be used in taking the 


life of Old John Brown. When Brown 
captured Pate at Black Jack, this knife, 
hanging at Pate's belt, instantly at- 
tracted Brown's eye. "I will thank 
you for that knife," he said. Pate de- 
murred, and declared that there was a 
special reason why he did not wish to 
give it up. Brown demanded to know 
the reason. "Well, the fact is," Pate 
said at last, "that knife was given me 
to put an end to your career with, Cap- 
tain Brown. " Brown took the knife, 
slung it on his belt, and then said, 
"Well, it seems that the Almighty had 
other designs concerning it!" One 
can imagine Brown's fine repression of 
any tendency to smile as he made this 
response. His humor was grim, but it 
was unquestionably present. He also 
took a sabre from Pate's lieutenant, and 
kept it until he found use for it in a deal 
for pikes in Connecticut. 

As Brown rode away with the prison- 
ers taken in this admirable fight, in- 


tending to make use of them in procuring 
the liberation of his sons, he fell in, un- 
luckily, with a body of United States 
troops under Colonel Sumner, a Massa- 
chusetts man, an anti-slavery sympa- 
thizer, and afterward a successful com- 
mander on the federal side in the Civil 
War. Brown was too good a soldier to 
suppose that, with some nine or ten men 
and with twenty-two prisoners on his 
hands, he could successfully engage a 
large force of United States dragoons, 
even if he had cared to make a direct 
issue then with the United States au- 
thorities. But he came openly and 
parleyed with Colonel Sumner as if he 
were his equal, and Sumner seems to 
have done the same with him. There 
was a most impressive incident at this 
meeting. Brown was at that time 
charged with murder on the Pottawa- 
tomie, with treason and conspiracy ; and 
a price had been put on his head. He was 
several times an outlaw. A civil officer 


accompanied Sumner; and the colonel, 
who must have estimated the situation 
cleverly, sympathizing with Brown and 
yet feeling bound to do his duty, turned 
to this civil officer, and said, "Have 
you not some warrants to serve here ? ' ? 
The man looked at Brown, standing 
there armed to the teeth, tall, with 
terrible eye. No one in Kansas believed 
that the old man would allow himself to 
be taken alive. "I — I see no one that 
I have a warrant against," the civil 
officer said. If this were a scene in a 
play, one can imagine the silence, and 
then the applause. 

So Colonel Sumner, who could hardly 
do less, or more, compelled Brown to re- 
lease his prisoners, and ordered him to 
disband his own party, but did not un- 
dertake to disarm one of them. Brown's 
men " disbanded" —and banded again 
a mile or two further on, and kept up 
their guerilla warfare. 

Within no very long time Brown's 


sons were given their liberty. He and 
they fought and lived on the prairies and 
in the gulches, and shook and burned 
with fever and ague, and sometimes 
lived for days almost without food, and 
bushwhacked on. 

Mr. W. A. Phillips, who was after- 
ward member of Congress from Kansas 
and a general in the Civil War, and 
obviously a man of cultivation, has left 
an account of a night passed with Brown 
at this period, in the midst of all the 
fighting. They slept in the open air 
under the same blanket, and talked, 
certainly in a very unsoldierly manner, 
all night, about the stars, about politics, 
about the rights of man. The talk ran 
on until after midnight, and at last 
Brown impressed Phillips greatly by 
telling him, from the evidence of the 
position of certain stars which were now 
exactly over their heads, that it was 
two o'clock; and, without a wink of 
sleep, Brown called his men, who re- 


sponded with alacrity. In less than 

ten minutes the company had saddled, 
packed, mounted, and was on the way 
to Topeka. Brown refused to follow the 
road, but insisted on taking a straight 
course across the country, guided only 
by the stars ; and they had a rough time 
of it, floundering in the thickets and 
crossing streams. 

Brown carried his wounded son-in- 
law, Henry Thompson, into Iowa, to be 
taken care of, and in August returned 
to the Kansas war-path again, doing 
some sharp skirmishing, at first in com- 
pany with and under the leadership of 
James H. Lane. Brown commanded the 
"Kansas Cavalry 7} in these encounters. 
On the 30th of August Brown's son 
Frederick was shot and killed, appar- 
ently in cold blood, by a Pro-slavery 
preacher named White. The sort of 
life Brown was leading now, and the 
work he was doing, is told well in a 
letter which he wrote from Lawrence to 


his wife and children in Xew York State 
on the 7th of September. 1856. "I 
have one moment to write to you," he 

V 7 

said. • • to say that I am vet alive, that 
Jason and his familv were well vester- 
day ; John and family. I hear, are well, 
he being yet a prisoner. On the morn- 
ing of the 30th of August an attack was 
made bv the Euffians on Osawatomie, 

c 7 

numbering some four hundred, by whose 
scouts our dear Frederick was shot dead 
without warning, he supposing them to 
be Free State men. as near as we can 
learn. One other man, a cousin of Mr. 
Adair [his son-in-law], was murdered 
by them about the time that Frederick 
was killed, and one badly wounded at 
the same time. At this time I was about 
three miles oft", where I had some four- 
teen or fifteen men over night that I had 
just enlisted to service under me as 
regulars. These I collected as well as I 
could, with some twelve or fifteen more : 
and in about three quarters of an hour 


I attacked them from a wood with thick 
undergrowth. With this force we threw 
them into confusion for about fifteen or 
twenty minutes, during which time we 
killed or wounded from seventy to 
eighty of the enemy — as they say — and 
then we escaped as well as we could, with 
one killed while escaping, two or three 
wounded, and as many more missing. 
Four or five Free State men were butch- 
ered during the day in all. Jason 
fought bravely by my side during the 
fight, and escaped with me, he being un- 
hurt. I was struck by a partly spent 
grape, cannister or rifle shot, which 
bruised me some, but did not injure 
me seriously. l Hitherto the Lord has 
helped me, ? in spite of my afflictions. . . . 
May the God of our Fathers save and 
bless you all !" 

This fight was the one commonly called 
"the battle of Osawatomie," though 
there were two other fights at or near 
that place. Brown's methods were 


frankly those of the guerilla. He liber- 
ated many slaves, and, as the phrase 
went in Kansas, incidentally converted 
many Pro-slavery horses and cattle to 
Free State principles. At this time a 
Pro-slavery federal governor, Geary, 
was vainly trying to reduce the con- 
stantly increasing Free State population 
to submission. Finally, the Missourians 
and other Southerners raised a force of 
twenty-seven hundred men for a last at- 
tack on the Anti-slavery stronghold, 
Lawrence. They were resisted by the 
Free State men in force. Naturally, 
Brown was there. He assembled the 
people in the street on September 15, 
1856, and made them a speech, which 
was reported in the papers. It is so 
good that it could hardly have been an 
invention : it deserves to rank as a 
classic amongst fighting exhortations of 
the sort : — 

u Gentlemen, — It is said there are 
twenty-five hundred Missourians down at 


Franklin, and that they will be here in 
two hours. You can see for yourselves 
the smoke they are making by setting fire 
to the houses in that town. Now is prob- 
ably the last opportunity you will have 
of seeing a fight, so you had better do 
your best. If they should come up and 
attack us, don't yell and make a great 
noise, but remain perfectly silent and 
still, wait till they get within twenty- 
five yards of you, get a good object, be 
sure you see the hind sight of your gun, 
then fire. A great deal of powder and 
lead and very precious time is wasted 
by shooting too high. You had better 
aim at their legs than at their heads. In 
either case, be sure of the hind sights of 
your guns. It is from neglect of this 
that I myself have so many times es- 
caped ; for, if all the bullets that have 
been aimed at me had hit, I should have 
been as full of holes as a riddle. " 

The Missourians made their onset. 
Brown commanded the Free State ad- 


vance-guard. He had some men armed 
with nothing but pitchforks, but they 
were not in the advance line. A brass 
cannon was brought out to support his 
rifles. There was some desultory firing ; 
and then the Missourians, seeing, no 
doubt, that the Lawrence men were en- 
tirely ready for them, withdrew in good 

Eeally, the Kansas battle was now 
won. Free State men had poured into 
the Territory. Slavery was impossible 
there : slave property could not be held, 
largely as the result of Brown's fierce 
guerilla warfare. He had seen clearly 
enough that the Territory could not be 
made a slave State if no slave could be 
peaceably held there. But now his mis- 
sion, as the wielder of the sword of the 
Lord and of Gideon, called him else- 
where. He had a larger field in view. 
Whether as early as the end of 1856 he 
contemplated an attack in the neighbor- 
hood of Harper's Ferry, is not clearly 


known. But he certainly had further 
and more extensive operations against 
slavery in mind. To carry them out, it 
was necessary to have money. There 
was money, and there were rich aboli- 
tionists, in Boston ; and there Brown 
went to beg. And there he begged with 
as much pertinacity and insistence as he 
had fought. There were rifles to buy 
and move, men to subsist and trans- 
port, a blow to be struck. 


George Luther, Stearns, a mer- 
chant of Boston, resident in the town 
of Medford close by, — a man of wealth 
and character and fine spirit, — was the 
mainspring of John Brown's campaign 
in Kansas and afterward in Virginia, 
though he seldom knew, and never took 
pains to find out, exactly what Brown 
was doing with his money. There were 
at work in New England, with their 
direction centred in Boston, two com- 
mittees which had much to do with mak- 
ing Kansas a free State, — the Kansas 
committee of Massachusetts and the 
New England Emigrant Aid Company. 
Nominally, their chief work was to colo- 
nize men in Kansas who could be de- 
pended on to vote against slavery. 
Towns were established there, and their 
settlers furnished with arms by these and 
other Kansas committees. Influential 
in the work were Mr. Stearns, Dr. 


Samuel G. Howe, Dr. Samuel Cabot, 
Jr., Eli Thayer, and Frank B. Sanborn. 
Mr. Sanborn was a young man, just out 
of college, of marked energy, individu- 
ality, earnestness and ability, then as 
now. Brown liked him well, visited 
him, wrote to him, made use of his 
abilities in raising money, and finally 
tried to get him to join him in the 
Virginia raid. The u friends of Kan- 
sas" in Massachusetts bought two hun- 
dred Sharpe's rifles and sent them to 
Brown in Iowa, intending them for use 
in Kansas. They never went further 
than an Iowa town named Tabor, where 
for a time Brown had his headquarters 
when he was not " operating" in Kan- 
sas. We shall see what became of them. 
John Brown came to Boston in De- 
cember, 1856, — the very year of the 
Pottawatomie killings, — and was hospi- 
tably received by some of the most radi- 
cal of the Anti-slavery men, and espe- 
cially by Stearns and Sanborn. His 


object, as lie announced it to these two, 
and as Sanborn reports it, was to raise 
money with which to arm and equip a 
hundred mounted men for defence and 
reprisal in Kansas. He gave it to be 
understood, however, that he wished to 
be at liberty to use the arms and money 
in his own way. He succeeded in get- 
ting a good deal of money. Mr. Stearns 
gave Brown a good deal of cash, and, first 
and last, undoubtedly paid him several 
thousand dollars. Brown had his family 
at North Elba to support, and naturally 
expected that, inasmuch as he was giving 
all his time and much of the time of two 
or three minor sons to the work, his 
family should have some support from 
the committees. His wife and young 
children certainly had no more at any 
time than the bare necessaries of life. 
Brown was now Captain John Brown, 
and a person of such wide reputation 
that, when he went about on the Kansas 
business, he found it convenient to 


travel under an assumed name ; and his 
favorite "alias" was u Nelson Hawk- 
ins." He made a speech under his own 
name — for in Massachusetts he could 
safely be John Brown — before a com- 
mittee of the Massachusetts legislature 
and a large audience, urging a State ap- 
propriation in support of the Kansas 
committee's work. It was refused ; but 
his appeal certainly helped him in his 
work, and his reception by the legisla- 
tive committee gave him standing. 

Brown visited his family at North 
Elba in the early spring of 1857, went 
to Connecticut, made speeches and col- 
lected money, got the granite tombstone 
of his grandfather, Captain John Brown, 
there and sent it to North Elba to be set 
up and inscribed with his son Frederick's 
name, and, eventually, with his own. 
At Collinsville, in Connecticut, he con- 
tracted for the manufacture of a thou- 
sand pikes or spears, saying that they 
were intended for use in Kansas. The 


manufacturer exacted pay for the work 
as lie went along ; and the pikes were a 
long time in preparing. When at last 
they were finished, they went to Har- 
per's Ferry, not to Kansas. They were 
a likely weapon for negroes on Southern 
plantations, who knew little about fire- 
arms : for ranging frontiersmen on the 
Kansas plains they were the last sort of 
weapon that any one would think of. 
There seems little doubt that Brown's 
explanation to the Connecticut manu- 
facturer was a subterfuge, and that he 
intended the pikes for a negro insur- 
rection somewhere. The fact that he 
paid for them slowly, keeping them 
hanging, so to speak, a long time, does 
not indicate that he really intended them 
for use in Kansas. He found money to 
pay for them before he needed them in 
Virginia. He could not prevent the 
shipment of the two hundred Sharpens 
rifles of the Kansas Aid committee as 
far west as Iowa, but there is fair ground 


for presumption that he never intended 
that they should go any further. 

Beating up and down the East in this 
money-getting work, Brown did another 
thing that proved he had a new plan, 
and also, perhaps, showed the influence 
of his reading of the Life of Oliver Crom- 
well. Somewhat like Cromwell, he de- 
veloped military tastes and took up a 
fighting career late in life, without a 
military training. When it had be- 
come desirable for Cromwell to have 
something of a soldier's education, he 
had found an adventurer of Dutch ex- 
traction, John Dalbier by name, who 
had seen much service abroad, and made 
use of him as a military " coach. 77 In 
New York Brown met an Englishman, 
— so he is called, at any rate, though 
the name betrays Scottish extraction, — 
named Hugh Forbes, who was said to 
have been with Garibaldi and to have 
done good fighting in the European 
revolutionary attempts of 1848. Brown 


seems to have been greatly taken with 
Forbes, and to have recognized in him 
his John Dalbier. He made an arrange- 
ment with him to instruct him and his 
u young men" in the military art, at 
some chosen place, for one hundred dol- 
lars a month, advancing him six hun- 
dred dollars. 

Meantime the political war in Kansas 
had become lively again, and Brown 
was implored by several of the leaders 
to come back to the Territory. He wrote 
them encouragingly, but was busy accu- 
mulating supplies and munitions, and 
getting them to Tabor and Springdale, 
Iowa, where he actually assembled "his 
young men," as he called the devoted 
band of followers who went with him to 
Virginia. "Jim" Lane, the military 
commander of the Free State forces in 
the Territory, had made Brown a gen- 
eral, and, addressing him as such, begged 
him to come on with his guns. Brown 
replied from Tabor that his health would 


not permit, — which seems very strange 
(if he had really intended to go) in a 
man who had resolutely lived an out- 
law's life in Kansas while extremely ill 
with fever, and had then ^shown no hesi- 
tation about risking his health at every 
turn. The fact was that he did not wish 
to put the two hundred precious Sharpens 
rifles, which Lane knew he had, and 
was eagerly trying to get, into the hands 
of Kansas bushwhackers. He knew that, 
if he did, he would never get them back 
again. Nor did he propose to reveal the 
plan for the Virginia raid to the Kansas 

The Eastern Anti-slavery folk were also 
egging Brown on to go to Kansas and 
"give them some backbone. " They 
were as yet in the dark as to his schemes. 
These Eastern people had agreed to pay 
Gerrit Smith one thousand dollars for 
the farm which Brown's family occupied 
in the Adirondacks : they did give it at 
last, but the money came very slowly. 


It seems extraordinary at this distance 
that Smith, a rich man, who certainly 
spent a great deal of money in the Anti- 
slavery cause, and who gave Brown three 
hundred dollars in cash at about this 
time, should have been willing to take 
money nominally from Brown for his 
rocky acres. 

On his way to the West from Ohio, 
Brown wrote a strange and pathetic let- 
ter to his wife and children. "If I 
should never return, " he said, "it is my 
particular request that no other monu- 
ment be used to keep me in remembrance 
than the same plain one that records the 
death of my grandfather and son ; and 
that a short story, like those already on 
it, be told of John Brown, the fifth, 
under that of grandfather." This refers 
to the tombstone of his grandfather 
which he had removed from Connecticut 
to North Elba. The request tells the 
story of his pride in his Puritan lineage. 
It betrays his own strong feeling that he 


was going to do something which might 
make his name famous, and that this 
something was in a high degree haz- 
ardous. "I think I have several good 
reasons for this, ' ? he went on in his let- 
ter. " I would be glad that my posterity 
should not only remember their parent- 
age, but also the cause they labored in. 
I do not expect to leave these parts 
under four or five days, and will try to 
write again before I go off. I am much 
confused in mind, and cannot remember 
what I wish to write." A long letter 
which Brow r n wrote from Iowa to F. B. 
Sanborn shows that his heart was very 
heavy at this time. His family were 
practically unprovided for, ill-lodged, 
poorly fed, and his young children not 
at school. He felt strongly that he had 
parted from them forever. Yet some- 
thing drove him on irresistibly: no press- 
ure could have made him turn back. 
He was, moreover, out of conceit with 
all the leading influences then working 


against slavery. The abolitionists, lie 
said, u would never effect anything by 
their milk-and-water principles/' and 
the Republican party was of no account, 
since it was opposed to " meddling with 
slavery 7 ' in the States where it existed. 
For his part, he lived to meddle with it 
wherever it was. Peace, he said, was 
but an empty word. He was certainly 
now preparing to make war. 

In September, 1857, he had assembled 
in Iowa his little company of young 
men for military instruction under the 
adventurer Forbes. These young men 
had for the most part served with him 
in Kansas : a few were new recruits. 
They were a chosen lot, of energy 
and fierce principle, but trusting Brown 
completely and going unquestioningly 
where he bade them. Several of them 
afterward died with him at Harper's 
Ferry. One of their best was John 
Henry Kagi, or Keagy, a native of 
Ohio, of Swiss extraction, a tall young 


fellow of twenty-three, with the air of a 
divinity student, but an agnostic in 
his religious views, as were most of 
the company. Kagi had been a teacher 
and a newspaper correspondent. An- 
other was John Edwin Cook, a young 
Connecticut Yankee who had studied at 
Yale, but did not graduate ; a talkative, 
very captivating fellow, who wrote poor 
verses and caused Brown some uneasi- 
ness by his tendency to prattle. An- 
other was Edwin Coppoc, Quaker-bred, 
a jolly, brown-eyed youth, but quiet in 
his ways and the essence of devotion to 
Brown. Of very much such material as 
this the whole party was made. The 
men were inclined to revolutionary 
radicalism ; they were full of " views, ?? 
and were a perpetual debating society 
wherever they went. Brown, the only 
old man in the group, unlike them in 
his foundation motive and his manner of 
life, dominated them completely, and 
knew that, with all their prattling, they 


would die for liini. Bichard Bealf, the 
poet, and Richard J. Hinton, a journal- 
ist, both. Englishmen, were for a time 
in Brown's band. He designed nearly 
every one of them to be the captain of a 
black legion, when he should have the 
blacks raised in rebellion against their 
masters. His drill -master Forbes had 
deserted him ; and he replaced him with 
Aaron Dwight Stephens, one of his 
Kansas fighters, who had been a soldier 
in the United States army. This man 
proved true, to the grave. 

Cook declares that Brown had told 
him that the ultimate destination of the 
expedition was Virginia. Without the 
knowledge or consent of Mr. Stearns or 
the other Massachusetts aiders and abet- 
tors of his plans, Brown shipped the 
Sharpens rifles and revolvers, which had 
been given him for "work in Kansas,' 7 
and also other stores, such as blankets 
and clothing, back to Conneaut, Ohio, 
on their way to Virginia. Ko doubt he 

knew that Mr. Stearns preferred that he 
should carry oul his own plans without 

isoltdng and involving him. Perhaps 
he did not care what any one thought 
about it. He communicated his plans 
gradually to his best trusted "young 
men." Edwin Coppoc said at Harper's 
Ferry, "The whole company was op- 
posed to making the first demonstration 
at Harper's Ferryj but Captain Brown 
would have his way. and we had to obey 

lexs»" Everything seemed going well. 
Brown intended to strike in April or 
May, 1868. He went East, visited 
Frederick Douglass in February, 1858, 
and sketched quite fully the Virginia 
plot to hirn. He had to beg more 
money from his Massachusetts sup- 
porters. He did not disclose his plans 
to them at this time, only saying 
that "railroad business/ 7 by which, of 
course, he meant liberating slaves, "on 
a somewhat extended scale,' 7 was his 
object. Meantime his enemies supposed 
that he was hiding in Kansas. 


He soon came on to Gerrit Smith's 
house at Peterboro, New York ; and 
to that place on Feb. 22, 1858, F. B. 
Sanborn and Thomas Wentworth Hig- 
ginson went, at Brown's urgent invita- 
tion. There, to Gerrit Smith, to Hig- 
ginson, to Sanborn, and to Smith's sec- 
retary, Edwin Morton, Brown unfolded 
a scheme for a raid in Virginia. He 
read a long u constitution " which he 
had drawn up for the government he 
was to establish. It was a wordy, boyish 
document, and seems to have special 
reference and adaptation to the negro 
character. It somewhat paradoxically 
asserted devotion to the Constitution and 
flag of the United States. Brown, for 
that matter, thought of his war as one 
against the slaveholders, not against the 
government. He wanted eight hundred 
dollars to begin the work of his revolu- 
tion with ! 

Brown's hearers were thunder-struck, 
and used every argument they could 


think of against the scheme. Hour after 
hour they talked and contended, Brown 
answering volubly every objection. 
' c But it is utterly hopeless to undertake 
so vast a work with such slender 
means/' they exclaimed; and Brown 
answered, "If God be for us, who can 
be against us?" In his mind this was 
answer enough. Besides, he already had 
his men and his munitions ; and they 
were on their way. The work had 
begun. He would not give it up. 

"You see how it is, " said Gerrit 
Smith : "our dear old friend has made 
up his mind to this course, and cannot 
be turned from it. We cannot give him 
up to die alone ; we must support him. 
I will raise so many hundred dollars for 
him : you must lay the case before your 
friends in Massachusetts, and perhaps 
they will do the same. I see no other 
way. " 

There was no other way. It was John 
Brown's rebellion. The moneyed aboli- 


tionists had only to ratify his decision. 
In connection with this enforced ratifi- 
cation, Mr. Sanborn patly quotes Ed- 
win Coppoc's remark to the authorities 
at Harper's Ferry: "Ah, gentlemen, 
you don't know Captain Brown : when 
he wants a man to do a thing, he does 
it." Brown knew his die was cast. 
He did not go to North Elba for two 
months, but visited Boston (whence he 
carried five hundred dollars in gold), 
New York and Philadelphia, turning 
various stones to forward his plans. He 
wrote to his daughter Euth, imploring 
her to let her husband, Henry Thompson, 
who had fought with him in Kansas, 
join him again ; and though Thompson, 
who had already been wounded in Kan- 
sas, did not go with him once more, his 
two brothers did. Brown wrote to San- 
born for copies of Plutarch's Lives, 
Irving' s "Life of "Washington," the 
"best Life of Napoleon, and other simi- 
lar books," together with maps and sta- 


tdsticsof Southern States, for his "young 
men ? } to read. 

Having made a brief visit to his 
family, Brown went to Chatham, in Can- 
ada West, to organize a conspiracy 
among the negroes from the United 
States who had taken refuge there, — a 
band of men influential among their 
race. There, in May, he held a secret 
convention. Twelve of his young men 
were with him, and there was a small 
attendance of trusted colored men. 
Brown's constitution, which he had read 
at Gerrit Smith's, was submitted to the 
meeting, and adopted. Brown made a 
strong speech, declaring his plan in a 
general way, but saying nothing about 
Harper's Ferry. In fact, one of the 
members of the convention has declared 
that he supposed the "work" was to be 
done in Kansas. Yet to some at least 
Brown seems to have made it clear that, 
when his blow for the negroes had been 
struck, they would come "to the moun- 


tains " to join him, and that there he 
proposed to operate, making the chain 
of the Appalachians his base. By flock- 
ing to his standard, the blacks would en- 
able him to harass the plantations on 
either side of the range ; and he believed 
that he could establish impregnable po- 
sitions in the mountains. He expected 
that the rising would become general 
through the Southern States ; and, when 
it had become so, he would organize the 
freed blacks under his provisional con- 

Brown was made commander-in-chief 
under this constitution, John Henry 
Kagi Secretary of War, Eichard Eealf 
Secretary of State, Owen Brown Treas- 
urer, and George B. Gill Secretary of 
the Treasury. All of these were white ; 
but two colored men were made u mem- 
bers of Congress. " The whole organi- 
zation was the absurdest boys' play, 
unless we are to consider it a part of 
Brown's plan to impress the negroes 


with high-sounding proceedings of ap- 
parent great importance. But Brown 
was capable of magnificent boyishness 
on occasion. I am inclined to regard all 
this as a part of it rather than as a 
more or less insincere device to dazzle 
the negroes. 

Brown intended to start for Virginia 
very soon. His own plans were matured. 
But meantime a great scare had been 
caused among the Eastern abolitionists 
by the threat of Hugh Forbes, Brown's 
late drill-master, to denounce the whole 
conspiracy to the government if he were 
not paid certain sums of money. Claim- 
ing that Brown had not paid him all he 
agreed, he conveyed this threat in letters 
to Senators Wilson and Sumner and 
other Bepublicans who were not in the 
secret. They went to Sanborn and 
Stearns, and there was wide consterna- 
tion. Several thought that the whole 
plan would have to be given up. As a 
matter of fact, it was put off on this ac- 


count for fully a year. Brown was not 
greatly worried, — certainly not at all 
alarmed. He used some craft to stay 
Forbes' s hand. He went to Boston, and 
Stearns induced him not to proceed for 
a time. It was thought best that Brown 
should go back to Kansas, apparently 
to resume his regular work there, but 
with the real object of confusing Forbes. 
Meantime Forbes somehow " disap- 
peared," as Hinton, who was one of 
Brown's men, expresses it, u wholly 
from our vision." Yet he wrote a com- 
munication to the New York Herald in 
October, 1859, and was later somewhat 
vaguely reported as fighting with Gari- 
baldi again in Italy. It is clear that 
he never really betrayed the conspiracy 
to the government. Brown was asked 
by Stearns to take back to Kansas the 
arms and munitions that he had collected, 
but he did not. He went there at the 
end of June, 1858, empty-handed and 
with much relutance, feeling that he was 
giving up large game for smaller. 


But Brown had not been back in 
Kansas long before lie had a trail of fire 
behind him. He had grown a long 
white beard, which was, for a time at 
least, an effectual disguise. He went 
under the name of Shubel Morgan there, 
being still an outlaw, and immediately 
organized a company of fighting men. 
Disorder and reprisals had by no means 
ceased. Brown was soon very ill with 
fever, but for the most part kept the 
field. His letters show that his thoughts 
were on the Virginia expedition. Time 
hung a little heavily on his hands ; and, 
when midwinter came, he made a slave- 
liberating foray into Missouri which 
was one of the most brilliant and the- 
atrical exploits of his life. 

It was toward the end of December 
when a negro man came over from Mis- 
souri, and told Brown that he, his wife, 
two children, and another negro man 


were to be sold within a day or two, and 
begged for help to get away. Brown, 
according to one of his companions, 
George B. Gill, was waiting for some- 
thing to turn up, and accepted this call 
as heaven-sent. He at once organized 
two parties of men, and within twenty- 
four hours rode into Missouri. With 
one of the parties he surrounded the 
place where the five negroes were kept, 
and summoned the people to surrender. 
They did so. Brown took the slaves, 
and also certain property belonging to 
the estate, including horses and wagons. 
He had a theory that this property was 
made by the labor of the negroes, and 
rightfully belonged to them. At any rate, 
they were entitled to means of convey- 
ance. Then he went on to another 
plantation, seized five more slaves and 
more of the u negroes' property, " and 
captured two white men. The other 
party, under Brown's man, Stephens, 
did not do so well. A white man was 


killed while resisting the liberation of a 
negro, and the party got but one slave. 

Brown ran his party of fugitives and 
captives over into Kansas, liberated his 
prisoners there, and deliberately organ- 
ized a flight — with the negroes — to 
Canada ! It was midwinter, and the 
negro women and children had to be 
transported in slowly lumbering Cones- 
toga wagons. By this time rewards 
were offered for Brown even by the Free 
State authorities of Kansas, so that he 
was doubly and trebly an outlaw. This 
attempt would have proved Brown's in- 
sanity if he had not actually accom- 
plished the feat. Inasmuch as he ac- 
complished it, it proved his genius. 

The Free State men — the best of them, 
at any rate — gave him shelter and 
helped him to conceal his captives, but 
protested against his act. Even Augus- 
tus "Wattles, a Quaker and a loyal friend 
of Brown's, said to him: "You ought 
not to do this. Kansas is too greatly 


harassed." "Well," answered Brown, 
6 i I will soon remove the seat of the 
trouble elsewhere." Ottawa Jones, an 
Indian, who had befriended Brown in- 
numerable times, now sheltered and hid 
him once more, though his previous aid 
to Brown had cost him all his earthly 
possessions, destroyed by the Missou- 
rians. Brown went on with his negroes 
over a frozen road. On the way one 
of the black women gave birth to a son, 
who was promptly named John Brown. 
Knowing that a band of Missourians was 
lying in wait for him, a party of some 
twenty-three young Kansans, who had 
not the fear of the Territory's rulers and 
cautious counsellors before their eyes, 
started out with them. They met the 
Missourians in ambush on the opposite 
shore of Muddy creek, covering a ford. 
They rode straight at them by Brown's 
command, and put the whole party to 
ignominious flight. Five of this valiant 
party Brown captured and marched with 


hiin a considerable distance. He did not 
deem it prudent to allow them to ride 
their horses, lest they should escape and 
betray his whereabouts ; but, after the 
very knightly way he had of treating 
his prisoners, he dismounted and went 
on foot with them all night, a to show 
that he meant them no unkindness." 
In the morning, after he had prayed 
over them, he told them to make their 
way back home as best they might. 
Naturally, he retained their horses ; and 
we can imagine that the tired men were 
long in reaching home. 

Brown's little party marched on, 
undergoing fearful hardships. Brown 
himself was found by a kindly abolition- 
ist on the way to be without under- 
clothing in the frightful cold and snow- 
drifts. Nobody knew to what negro 
refugee he had given his own garments. 
The fugitives were pursued, but they 
managed to get into Nebraska safely ; 
and from there on Brown begged his 


way, the negroes being met now and 
then with demonstrations of welcome 
and rejoicing, but often with cold repro- 
bation. He reached Chatham, Canada, 
in March, 1859, with all his fugitives 
alive and well. Then he went to Ohio, 
and at Cleveland sold his captured Mis- 
souri horses and mules at public sale, 
li warning the purchasers, " Mr. Sanborn 
says, "that there might be a defect in 
the title. " 

He made sure that his Virginia stores 
were safe. His son John had kept the 
two hundred rifles and other arms and 
munitions, first in a furniture warehouse 
at Cherry Valley, Ohio, covered over 
with ready-made coffins, and then, upon 
an alarm, in an abolitionist farmer's 
barn. In the early summer of 1859 John 
Brown, Jr., shipped them as u hardware' 7 
to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, which 
was only forty-five miles from Harper's 
Ferry, Virginia. The curtain was about 
to rise on the last act of the tragedy. 


John Brown went now, grave and 
severe, his whole nature breathing a 
terrible earnestness, to New England, 
demanding rather than asking fresh sup- 
port for the reorganization of his band. 
He talked at Concord Town Hall, and 
the sight and thought of him inspired 
Concord to an unwonted fire. He inw 
pressed the people with his marvellous 
simplicity. "He is so transparent, 77 
Emerson said, "that all men see him 
through. " Emerson, Thoreau, and Al- 
cott went to hear him ; and no one 
of them ever wrote anything better than 
the praise that each one lavished, at this 
moment, on the old fanatic. These ora- 
cles of Concord spoke of Brown as if 
they had seen a spirit. 

Brown was much at the house of 
Mr. and Mrs. Stearns at Medford, his 
truest friends and most generous bene- 
factors and supporters. They endured 


ostracism and the scorn of their own 
kin on his account ; but they knew him 
to be great, and believed him to be 
good. He visited Frank B. Sanborn. 
From all those people and from Ger- 
rit Smith, Brown raised something more 
than two thousand dollars. He got a 
brief glimpse of his family at North 
Elba ; he assembled his " young men" 
as well as he could, or saw that they 
had employment where he could call 
them to him at any moment, and fi- 
nally, in June, 1859, appeared with his 
two sons, Owen and Oliver, at Cham- 
bersburg, Pennsylvania, where he set up 
a fictitious hardware business under the 
name of Isaac Smith & Sons. This 
fiction was to enable him to receive 
and ship u goods." He paid what was 
still due of the one thousand dollars 
which he had promised for his pikes in 
Connecticut, and had this hardware also 
sent to him at Chambersburg. Then he 
and his sons went, on July 3, to Har- 


per's Ferry, leaving John Henry Kagi in 
charge of the business at Chambersburg. 
Brown had had his lieutenant, John E. 
Cook, living in the vicinity of Har- 
per's Ferry for some time, spying out the 
ground. The young man had blended 
himself so thoroughly with the life of 
the people that he had married a Vir- 
ginian's daughter. But he left her, and 
came to John Brown. 

Brown and his sons walked about the 
hilly farming country on the northern 
side of the Potomac, opposite Harper's 
Ferry, prospecting for a base of opera- 
tions. They were Isaac Smith and his 
two sons ; they had been farmers in 
northern New York, but the frosts there 
cut off their crops till they were sick of 
it. They had also made a business of 
buying up fat cattle and driving them 
into New York. They thought they 
could combine this business with a little 
farming in this favorable region. The 
Maryland country people, simple-hearted 


and hospitable, accepted this explana- 
tion without suspicion. The men looked 
honest and respectable, and spoke well 
and frankly. Brown hired a farm-house 
and cabin, called the Kennedy place, 
in a retired situation amidst the woods 
about four miles from the Potomac. 
They took up their residence on this 
place. Martha Brown, the wife of young 
Oliver Brown, and Anne, John Brown's 
daughter, now sixteen years old, came 
on to keep house for them. The neigh- 
borhood people visited them occasion- 
ally, and found nothing suspicious about 
them. But meantime Brown, little by 
little, was, with consummate cleverness, 
getting his boxes of rifles and pikes and 
other munitions down from Chambers- 
burg, partly by wagon and partly by 
rail, and storing them in the cabin. 

Stearns and Sanborn and Gerrit Smith 
did not know that he was doing these 
things nor where he was going to strike. 
They did not want to know what he was 


doing, and he was careful not to inform 
them. He wrote home to his wife a 
good deal of advice about the farming 
operations at North Elba. His son 
Watson, and the brothers of his son-in- 
law, the two young Thompsons, who 
were as faithful to him as sons, came on 
and joined him ; and so did others of the 
"young men." They spent their time 
mostly in hiding about the Kennedy 
place. John Brown, Jr., worked hard 
in shipping the freight — that is, the 
war material — to Harper's Ferry and 
in doing various errands for his father 
in connection with the business. He 
went to Canada for him, and to Boston. 
By the end of August Brown wrote to 
his son, "Our freight is principally 
here." About that time Frederick 
Douglass, the most famous, intelligent, 
and influential colored man in America, 
went to Chambersburg to see Brown. 
This was at Brown's urgent request. In 
a way, Douglass held the key to the 


hearts of the negroes ; and Brown seems 
to have estimated his influence at a high 
figure. At the time of the meeting, 
Brown was fishing in an old flooded 
stone quarry somewhere near Chambers- 
burg. Douglass has left an account of 
the interview. It is interesting, and 
none the less so because, like Douglass's 
story of his interview with Brown in 
1847, it shows some traces of the embel- 
lishment of a lively imagination. 

Brown, Douglass, Shields Green (a 
negro whom Douglass had brought with 
him), and Kagi sat down to talk while 
Brown fished. Brown frankly declared 
his purpose to take the United States 
arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and from 
there to proceed to the mountains. 
Douglass opposed the plan earnestly. 
It would, he said, "be fatal to all en- 
gaged ; it would be an attack on the 
federal government, and would array 
the whole country against us." Doug- 
lass was for starting the movement in 


the mountains, and drawing the slaves 
up there. Brown said lie coiild keep 
the Virginians off, for a sufficient time, 
at Harper's Ferry by means of the 
prominent men whom he would take 
and hold as hostages, and that the very 
boldness of the blow would instantly 
arouse the whole North. And here 
came another great scene. Neither man 
could convince the other. Brown, who 
seemed to suspect a little timidity in 
Douglass, got up and put his arms 
around him. "Come with me," he 
said : "I will defend you with my life ! 
I want you for a special purpose. When 
I strike, the bees will begin to swarm ; 
and I shall want you to help hive them." 
Douglass refused. Turning to the plan- 
tation negro, Shields Green, who was a 
runaway slave whom he had harbored, 
Douglass said, "Well, Green, what have 
you decided to do ! " and the black man 
answered, "I b'lieve I'll go wid de ole 
man!" At Harper's Ferry, Green re- 


fused to take advantage of an opportu- 
nity to escape, and went back and died 
like a hero with Brown. This man's 
willing sacrifice of his life was one of 
many smaller heroic tragedies which 
were absorbed in the greater one. 

Douglass's plan may have been better 
than Brown's ; but, if he had been a 
hero, he would have gone when Brown 
implored him. Douglass's defection was, 
in a way, a prophecy of the failure of the 
negro race to support Brown ; but Brown 
himself was of the type of men who would 
accept an isolated act like Shields Green's 
heroic devotion as a favorable omen, dis- 
regarding the more significant act of the 
other. John Brown's own sons disap- 
proved the blow at Harper's Ferry. He 
confessed to his son Owen that he felt 
profound discouragement at this opposi- 
tion, and said to his men, "As you are 
opposed to the plan of attacking here, I 
will resign : we will choose another 
leader, and I will faithfully obey." He 


did resigiL Within five minutes the 
band voted for a leader. Brown was 
unanimously re-elected. The choice of 
any other man would have been as 
absurd and as impossible as the election 
of a successor for Bonaparte before Aus- 
terlitz. From that time forward there 
was no talk of any other plan than his. 
The time was near in which the women 
must be sent away. The blow was ready. 
Brown wrote on September 8 to his 
wife and children at North Elba, who 
were consulting him about details of 
farm management : "It now appears 
likely that Martha and Anne will be on 
their way home in the course of a month, 
but they may be detained to a little later 
period. I do not know what to advise 
about fattening the old spotted cow, as 
much will depend on what you have to 
feed her with, whether your heifers will 
come in or not next spring, also upon 
her present condition. You must exer- 
cise the best judgment you have in the 


matter, as I know but little about your 
crops. I should like to know more as 
soon as I can." 

"The girls," who had been of im- 
mense service, who kept discreet watch 
over the prattling conspirators in the 
house and hustled them out of sight on 
occasion, and who turned aside local 
suspicion by their sweet and honest ways, 
went home early in October. Mean- 
time scenes of extraordinary strange- 
ness were enacting at and around the 
Kennedy place. Eighteen or twenty 
men, mostly white, with three or four 
colored, were packed away there. They 
played checkers, sang sentimental songs, 
studied military books, put their large 
stock of weapons into order, and argued 
much and volubly on religious questions. 
Brown conducted some form of religious 
worship every day, though his adherents 
were mostly free thinkers. There was a 
little congregation of Dunkers, or Wine- 
brennarians, who held meetings in a 


school-house not far away j and Brown 
went and exhorted and preached to 
thern. Meantime he worried lest Cook's 
loquacity should get him into trouble. 
Some of the neighbors saw negroes at 
the place, and suspected that old Isaac 
Smith and his sons were running off 
slaves. But they did nothing about it. 
The habitual apathy and indolence of 
the Maryland population fought on 
Brown's side. 

A more alarming thing happened, 
though Brown knew nothing of it. 
Some one sent anonymously from Cin- 
cinnati a letter to Mr. Floyd, Secretary 
of War, warning him, in so many words, 
that u Old John Brown, late of Kansas," 
had a party ready with which he was 
about to "pass down through Pennsyl- 
vania and Maryland and enter Virginia 
at Harper's Ferry, with the purpose of 
liberating and arming slaves. ' J It was, 
on the whole, a very accurate betrayal 
of the whole scheme. There have been 


various conjectures as to the way in 
which this information got out. The 
identity of the man who sought to be- 
tray the secret is now pretty well known. 
It does not matter who he was. The 
wonder is that the secret was not be- 
trayed sooner. But once more the 
Southern dolcefar niente came to Brown's 
aid. Secretary Floyd received this letter 
while he was pleasuring at a watering- 
place, glanced it over, filed it away as 
if it were a paper of some importance, 
and did nothing more about it. The 
paper came out only after the blow had 
been struck. 

Brown ran over to Philadelphia on 
the 10th or 11th of October, and 
met there Francis Jackson Merriam, a 
young man of good family in Boston, 
who at once definitely and enthusias- 
tically joined the desperate expedition. 
Brown sent Merriam to Baltimore to 
buy forty thousand percussion caps, and 
the merchant who sold them was allowed 


to suppose thai thqy were intended for 
a filibustering expedition to Nicaragua. 
These caps went safely to Harper's 
Perry ; and Merciani, who was said to 
be in feeble health, and who was the 
only "gentleman," in the old sense of 
the word, In the party, joined the band 
at the Kennedy place as its humblest 

On Sunday, October lfi, Brown rose 
early, and called all his men to wor- 
ship. There were now twenty-two or 
twenty-three men in the house. There 
is radical disagreement as to whether 
or not one John Anderson, a negro, 
was present. There is no proof that 
he was there. Without him there were 
twenty- two men. John Brown was 
commander-in-chief. John Henry Kagi 
was his adjutant and lieutenant. Aaron 
Dwight Stephens, Owen Brown, Watson 
Brown, Oliver Brown, John Edwin Cook, 
and Charles Plummer Tidd were u cap- 
tains ? ? ; that is, they were to bear that 


rank in the negro army which was 
soon to be organized. William Henry 
Leeman, Albert Hazlett, Jeremiah G. 
Anderson, Edwin Coppoc, William 
Thompson, and Dauphin Thompson were 
lieutenants. The private soldiers were 
Shields Green, Dangerfield Newby, John 
A. Copeland, Osborne Perry Anderson, 
and Sherrard Lewis Leary, negroes, and 
Steward Taylor, Barclay Coppoc, and 
Francis Jackson Merriam, white men. 
This gentleman of Boston came last of all 
in Brown's honorable roster. Brown 
read a chapter in the Bible, and uttered 
an earnest prayer for the success of his ex- 
pedition. The men ate a solemn break- 
fast, after which Brown called the roll 
of his band. A sentinel was placed at 
the door ; and a u council meeting" was 
held, with Osborn P. Anderson, a colored 
man, in the chair. But the orders which 
were to govern the proceedings of the 
next night and day were submitted by 


Every man's duty for at least twenty- 
four hours had been carefully assigned 
him. Three men — Owen Brown, Mer- 
riam, and Barclay Coppoc, were ordered 
to remain at the house and guard the 
arms. All the rest were to proceed, as 
soon as it was dark, silently to Harper's 
Ferry, their weapons kept out of sight. 
Two men were to step aside before the 
bridge over the Potomac was reached, 
and tear down the telegraph wire. Two 
men were to seize and hold the ferry 
watchman, and two others to remain on 
guard on the Potomac bridge and two 
on the Shenandoah bridge until morn- 
ing. Two were to occupy the fire en- 
gine-house in the heart of the town, 
while Hazlett and others were to cap- 
ture the United States armory. Ste- 
phens, with men, was to go out into 
the country and capture Colonel Lewis 
Washington, a descendant of George 
Washington's brother, free his negroes, 
seize as much of his property as was 


available, and turn Mm and his negroes 
over to the negro Osborn Anderson, who 
was to bring them to the Ferry. Brown 
himself was to go ahead of the band from 
the Kennedy place, in a wagon loaded 
with arms, and was to remain at Har- 
per's Ferry in command. Stephens, 
with a gang of his liberated negroes 
and horses and wagons, was to go back 
to the Kennedy place, and bring down 
the rifles, pikes, and other materials 
stored there. Brown expected soon to 
have negro hands into which to put 
every one of his one hundred and 
ninety-four rifles and one thousand 

The council over and his orders pro- 
mulgated to the band, it is asserted that 
Brown " went quietly over to the little 
Dunker chapel and preached to the sim- 
ple believers there. But it was not later 
than eight o'clock in the evening when 
he set out in his wagon, eighteen men 
following in pairs behind him, for Har- 


per's Ferry. His only speech before the 
departure was this : "Men, get on your 
arms: we will proceed to the Ferry. " 
He had a sledge-hammer and a crow-bar 
thrown into the wagon. Always a little 
bit of a fetichist, Brown got out an old 
cap which he had worn in Kansas and 
put it on. He mounted the wagon, said, 
"Come, boys," and drove down the 
road. The night was cold and dark. 
Before morning rain fell. 

They reached the covered bridge over 
the Potomac without adventure, crossed 
until they were near the Virginia side, 
and were there challenged by the soli- 
tary watchman. They seized and held 
him, and no alarm was given. The 
bridge was left under guard of Watson 
Brown and Taylor. John Brown, with 
the main party, went on to the armory 
gate, broke it down with sledge-hammer 
and crow-bar, and entered the yard. A 
watchman came out in alarm, and was 
promptly seized. Brown sent one small 


party to capture a building called the 
rifle-works about half a mile from the 
armory proper, and another to occupy 
the arsenal. By this time the whole 
village was practically in Brown's hands, 
and not a shot had been fired, A con- 
siderable number of citizens had been 
picked up, but there was no general 
alarm. About midnight an Irish watch- 
man came down to relieve the other 
watchman on the railroad bridge over 
the Shenandoah, and found Oliver 
Brown and William Thompson in 
charge. He resisted arrest, and Thomp- 
son fired at him, the bullet grazing his 
scalp. This shot alarmed many of the 
people in the town, who awoke to find 
the place firmly in the possession of a 
band of men of whose purposes and mo- 
tives they knew absolutely nothing. 

Stephens and Anderson brought in 
Colonel Lewis Washington and his 
negroes and some neighboring slave* 
owners. Brown, who had set up his 


headquarters at the armory, received 
these Virginians in a very courtly man- 
ner, and conducted them to a fire. Ste- 
phens had brought from Washington's 
house a sword which Frederick the 
Greal Of Prussia had scut as a gift to 
General George Washington, and which 
Lewis Washington had inherited. Brown 
took this sword, and carried it proudly 
until he was himself made a prisoner. 
Colonel Washington was much impressed 
by Brown's manner, and had no doubt 
at all that the wearer of his ancestral 
sword was in command of a large force. 
At half-past one in the morning a 
train came in from the west. It halted 
at the bridge, finding the lights extin- 
guished. A negro porter, who was sent 
forward to see what w r as the matter, re- 
fused to halt when challenged by the 
guard, and was shot and mortally 
wounded. Brown committed the mis- 
take, which from this distance is inex- 
plicable, of letting this train go on to 


Washington before morning with the 
news of his foray. He had, either from 
motives of policy or because it was 
natural to him, adopted a somewhat 
grand and condescending manner toward 
these people. He knew he was playing 
a tremendous game of u bluff." In the 
main, he played it very well ; but he 
u bluffed " too far. He himself walked 
over the bridge with the conductor of 
the train, to satisfy him that it was safe ; 
for the man suspected a trap. The train 
sped on, to Brown's ruin. 

The morning dawned with Brown in 
full possession of the town. Many of 
the citizens had not been awakened at 
all. Captain Dangerfield, the clerk of 
the armory, came to his office to begin 
his day's work without any knowledge 
of what had happened, and fell into the 
hands of the raiders. He thought they 
were crazy men. Brown's men, rein- 
forced by a few negroes from "Washing- 
ton's plantation, were busy making 


prisoners. But, meantime, other citi- 
zens were arming themselves and spread- 
ing the alarm about the country. The 
attempt was now locally recognized as a 
negro insurrection under the lead of an 
unknown white man, who was called 
" Captain Smith.' 7 The train which he 
had allowed to proceed was bearing the 
news to Washington and Baltimore. 
The first accounts published in the 
papers stated that the insurgents were 
commanded by "one Captain Anderson, 
who is about sixty years of age, with a 
heavy white beard, — cool, collected, and 
with a determined and desperate de- 
meanor." These stories showed how 
wholly by surprise the attack had taken 
the country, and how completely "Old 
John Brown" of Kansas had been lost 
sight of. 

Brown's time had now come to leave 
the town and take to the mountains. 
Authorities agree that he might have 
done this safely at any time up to nine 


o'clock on Monday morning, and prob- 
ably he might have escaped at any time 
before noon. By that time he had been 
completely invested, in a little town 
hemmed in by a broad river and high 
hills. Why did he not go? A great 
deal of conjecture has been wasted on 
this point. A newspaper reported hirq. 
as saying this, after his arrest: " A, 
lenient feeling towards the citizens led 
me to parley with them as to a compro- 
mise ; and by prevarication on their 
part I was delayed until attacked, and 
then in self-defence was compelled to 
entrench myself. " He certainly never 
admitted that his sacrifice of himself and 
his men was deliberate ; but he never 
lamented it, and to his brother Freder- 
ick he wrote after his condemnation, 
"I am fully persuaded that I am wort 
inconceivably more to hang than for ar 
other purpose. " ,. 

There was scattered fighting all that i 
forenoon of October 17. Brown ran 


his prisoners into the engine-house, 
where there were small windows and 
port-holes which he could fibre through. 
Several of his men, Including his son 
Watson and William Thompson, were 
shot and captured abort the town. On 
their part, his men trilled several of the 

townspeople. Sonic Maryland militia, 

■aino up, across the Potomac, but were 
beaten back for a little time, Several 

companies of Virginia militia arrived at 
Harper's Ferry in the course of the day. 
The little garrisons at the rifle- works and 
the armory were killed or captured, with 
the exception of two men who escaped. 
The bodies of Kagi, Leary, and Thomp- 
son were hurled savagely into the Poto- 
mac River. Owen Brown, the Bostonian 
Merriam, and Barclay Coppoe, who were 
ring to move the arms down from the 
v nnedy farm, found themselves cut off, 
id, after some shooting from a distance, 
ded to the North. 
When Brown finally barricaded him- 


self in the engine-house, he had but six 
men with him. Bullets came whizzing 
through the windows and doors. One of 
Brown's sons fell, and died in a moment. 
Captain Dangerfield, in his story of the 
fight in the engine-house, says of this in- 
cident : " Brown did not leave his post 
at the port-hole ; but, when the fighting 
was over, he walked to his son's body, 
straightened out his limbs, took off his 
trappings, and then turned to me and 
said, "This is the third son I have lost in 
this cause.' Another son had been shot 
in the morning, and was then dying, 
having been brought in from the street. 
Often during the affair in the engine- 
house, when his men would want to fire 
upon some one who might be seen pass- 
ing, Brown would stop them, saying, 
'Don't shoot: that man is unarmed.' " 
Brown took sufficiently good care of 
his prisoners so that none of them 
were hurt. They all gave him credit 
afterward for perfect intrepidity and 


Barly In the evening Oolonel Robert 

K. Lee and Lieutenant .1. B, B. Stuart, 
ix»tli of them afterward famous as Con- 
federate generals, arrived i»y train from 
Washington with a company of United 

States niarinrs. Si uart eanm into the 

engine-house with a light) ondera Bag 
of t race, to parley . He exclaimed, <>n 
seeing Brown, "Why, aren't yon old 
Osawatomie Brown of Kansas whom I 
oner had there as my prisoner t" "Yes," 
said Brown; u but yon did nol keep me." 
This was the iirst intimation that the 

Harper's Perry people had of Brown's 

identity. Stuart advised Brown to 
"trust to the clemency of the govern- 
ment" ; but Brown answered, "I prefer 
to die just here." After two more of 
his men had been killed, and more par- 
leying had taken place, the marines got 
a ladder, and, using it as a battering 
ram, burst in the engine-house door 
and poured into the room. Lieutenant 
Israel Green, of the marines, leaped 


upon Brown, struck him heavily with 
his sabre in the head and face, cutting 
and striking him several times after he 
was down, and inflicting wounds which 
were at first supposed to be mortal. 

Brown was soon in the presence of the 
Governor of Virginia, Henry S. Wise, of 
Colonel Lee, and of a crowd of function- 
aries and reporters, being subjected, as 
he lay wounded and bleeding, to a 
cross-examination as to his intentions and 
purposes. We who have followed his 
career know what his purposes were. 
Under this riddling fire of questions, 
Brown's battered head was perfectly 
clear. He summed the matter all up 
in this sentence: "We are abolitionists 
from the North, come to take and release 
your slaves. " The politicians tried to 
get out of him something incriminating 
the Eepublican leaders of the North. 
Of course they did not succeed ; for he 
had had nothing to do with these. Ap- 
parently, his questioners knew nothing 


of Stearns and the rest who were really 

A long report of his interview with 
Senator Mason of Virginia, Clement Val- 
landigham, J. E. B. Stuart, and others, 
printed in the New York Herald, was 
probably in the main correct. The re- 
sponses attributed in it to Brown are all 
characteristic of him. His clean-cut ex- 
pressions flash out from the others' words 
like fire. The report is a classic, quite 
fit to be put in the reading-books. l ' Who 
sent you here ! ' ? asked Vallandigham. 
1 ( No man sent me here, ' ? said Brown. l { I 
acknowledge no master in human form." 
"Did you get up the expedition your- 
self? ' ' "I did. > ' He was asked ' ' how 
long he had been engaged in this busi- 
ness," and he answered fully and truly, 
"From the breaking out of the diffi- 
culties in Kansas." When they began 
to question Stephens, who was also 
wounded, Brown warned him to be 
cautious in his answers. "You had 


better/' he said, lifting his bleeding 
head and surveying the crowd about 
him, — "you had better, all you people 
of the South, prepare yourselves for a 
settlement of this question, — this negro 
question: the end of that is not yet." 
" These wounds were inflicted upon me," 
he also said, "both sabre cuts on my 
head and bayonet stabs in different parts 
of my body, some minutes after I had 
ceased fighting and had consented to 
surrender for the benefit of others, not 
for my own." We may observe that 
Brown took note of the fact that he had 
been struck by a sabre, not an officer's 
customary sword. An officer of marines 
would have been more likely to carry 
a sword than a sabre ; but it happened 
that Lieutenant Green did carry a sabre. 
Brown seems to have watched the blade 
that fell upon his head and face. 

The Virginians were anxious to know 
whether his intention was to free the 
slaves there or to carry them off; and 


he declared thai it was his intention to 
set them free, not to carry them off. 
"But to set them free would sacrifice 
the life of every man in this commu- 
nity," he wits told by one; and he 
answered, "I do not think so." "Ton 
are fanatical ! " exclaimed the Virginian. 
"Audi," answered Brown, "think c you 
are fanatical. i Whom the Gods would 
destroy, they first make mad ' ; and you 
are mad." This the Virginians could 
not understand. It was to them crazy 

One man knew that Brown was not 
crazy, and that was Governor Henry S. 
Wise, Wise was a strong man, of large 
mental measure. He recognized a man 
of like measure in Brown. He said to 
him oracularly, after his wont: "Mr. 
Brown, the silver of your hair is red- 
dened by the blood of crime ; and you 
should think upon eternity. You are 
suffering from wounds perhaps fatal ; 
and, should you escape death from these 


causes, you must submit to a trial which 
may involve death. Tour confessions 
justify the presumption that you will 
be found guilty. It is better that you 
should turn your attention to your 
eternal future.' 7 And Brown answered 
gravely, taking up a little of the gran- 
diosc^tone of his tormentor, but improv- 
ing on it with fine Yankee humor : 
" Governor, I have, from all appear- 
ances, not more than fifteen or twenty 
years the start of you on the journey to 
that eternity of which you kindly warn 
me ; and, whether my time here shall be 
fifteen months or fifteen days or fifteen 
hours, I am equally prepared to go. 
There is an eternity behind and an eter- 
nity before ; and the little speck in the 
centre, however long, is but compara- 
tively a minute. The difference between 
your tenure and mine is trifling, and I 
therefore tell you to be prepared. I am 
prepared. You all have a heavy re- 
sponsibility, and it behooves you to pre- 
pare more than it does me." 


"They arc mistaken/' Wise said soon 
afterward in a public speech at Kich- 
niond, "who take Brown to be a mad- 
man. He is a bundle of the best nerves 
lever saw, — out and thrust and bleed- 
ing and in bonds. He is a man of clear 
head, of courage, fortitude, and simple 
ingenuousness. He is cool, collected, and 
indomitable. It is but just to say that 
he was humane to his prisoners, and he 
inspired me with great trust in his in- 
tegrity as a man of truth.' ' 

Brown's sons, Watson and Oliver, were 
by this time dead, as were also William 
and Dauphin Thompson, Kagi, Leeman, 
Taylor, Leary, Jeremiah Anderson, and 
Newby. Owen Brown, Cook, Tidd, 
Barclay Coppoc, Merriam, Hazlett, and 
Osborn Anderson were fugitives, Cook 
and Hazlett being captured and brought 
back for trial. The bodies of some of 
the dead were atrociously and revolt- 
ingly maltreated. Several of the bodies, 
after being dragged and thrown about, 


were sent to the medical college at Win- 
chester for dissection. The five men 
named above were the only men of the 
party who escaped death in the fighting 
or on the gallows. 

For Brown, of course, was tried, and 
swiftly convicted of u treason, and con- 
spiring and advising with slaves and 
others to rebel, and of murder in the 
first degree, " and was sentenced to 
death. The trial, which took place at 
Charlestown, six miles from Harper's 
Ferry, was opened on October 26 ; and 
the verdict of conviction was brought 
in on November 2. The proceedings, 
though swift, were not unseemly, and 
not unduly summary, considering the 
excitement of the Virginians, and their 
great fear that a rescue would be at- 
tempted from the North. 

Brown was fairly well defended, 
though by no strong or famous or 
highly gifted counsel. He lay on a 
mattress in the court-room, in heavy 


chains, and gave his testimony from this 
pallet. While in his cell, he was kept 
constantly and very heavily chained to 
the floor. He denounced to the court 
his lawyer's plea of insanity in his be- 
half, declaring it to be "a miserable 
artifice. " His wounds and general 
health improved during his trial and 
confinement. A very strong guard of 
militia was kept over him, and in the 
streets of Charlestown and in Harper's 
Ferry. He refused to encourage an 
attempt to rescue him, which might 
very likely have been made if he had 
been willing, saying at once, "I think 
that my great object will be nearer its 
accomplishment by my death than by 
my life ' 7 ; and by and by he said, after 
reflection, "I would not walk out of 
the prison if the door was left open.' 7 

He was sentenced to be hung at 
Charlestown on December 2. During 
the month that he lay heavily chained, 
awaiting execution, he slept as calmly 


as a child every night, and grew 
stronger. He wrote a great many let- 
ters, all of which appear to have been 
faithfully forwarded. Several of these 
were to his wife, who just before his 
execution came to see him, against his 
advice, and was admitted once, and went 
away. His letters from his prison were 
dignified, solemn, and somewhat wordy, 
as if this terrible situation, and the op- 
portunity to express himself which all 
this letter-writing afforded, had led him 
to abandon his customary succinctness 
of expression. He wrote not one letter 
to his old abolitionist correspondents and 
supporters, knowing that to write to 
them would direct suspicion toward 
these men. But to Mary Stearns, wife 
of his chief benefactor, at Medford, he 
did write a very simple, eloquent letter 
of farewell. 

On the appointed day Brown was 
taken to the gallows in a wagon, in the 
presence of a great force of Virginian 


soldiery of all arms. From the seat of 
the wagon he had a prospect of the 
great hills, — Appalachian brothers of 
those amidst which he was born, 
had made his home at North Elba, and 
had already ordered that his body 
should be buried. He paid no atten- 
tion to the crowd and the soldiery, but 
those hills filled him with new emo- 
tion. "This is a beautiful country, " 
he exclaimed to his attendants. "I 
have not cast my eyes on it before ; 
that is, in this direction. " The best 
Virginian account of his execution is 
that written by Parke Poindexter, then 
a soldier in the Eichmond company of 
militia, who held the "post of honor" 
at the gallows, and was afterward a 
colonel in the Confederate army. "I 
witnessed the whole proceeding," says 
Poindexter. u Brown mounted the scaf- 
fold as calmly and quietly as if he had 
been going to his dinner. He did not 
exhibit the slightest excitement or fear. 


Not a muscle moved, nor was there the 
slightest nervous excitement. He stood 
erect and calm, as if he were upon 

This was not the end of John Brown, 
as all the world knows. His name and 
his strange, direct, simple influence were 
soon imbedded in the history and song 
of his country. I have repeated above 
what the large-minded Governor "Wise 
of Virginia said of Brown, when he 
was in prison and in chains. It was in 
praise of Brown's honesty and courage. 
More than four years afterward, when 
the Civil War had been fought and its 
results were declared, a Union general, 
in Wise's presence, mentioned the name 
of John Brown. Whereupon the Vir- 
ginian quickly said: "John Brown? 
John Brown was a great man, sir. John 
Brown was a great man ! ?? 


A surprising amount of literature, 
largely controversial, has been written 
about John Brown. His story has in- 
spired the authors of several nationali- 
ties. It would be impracticable to give 
here a list of all these publications. 
Several years ago the titles in Dr. 
Featherstonehaugh' s bibliography of 
Brown, which included formal magazine 
articles, numbered eighty. I shall men- 
tion the books and articles of chief im- 

I. The Public Life of Captain John 
Brown. By James Eedpath. (Boston, 
1860 : Thayer & Eldridge. ) This was 
the first biography of Brown to appear. 
It contained much personal testimony, 
especially relating to Kansas matters, 
but was fragmentary and altogether par- 
tisan, and contained errors. 

II. Senate Bepout on the Invasion of 


Harper's Ferry. By a Select Com- 
mittee of the United States Senate. 
Senate Beports, No. 278, Thirty-sixth 
Congress, First Session, Vol. II. 

III. A Voice from Harper's Ferry. 
By Osborn Perry Anderson. (Boston, 
1861 : Privately printed. ) 

IV. John Brown. By Victor Hugo. 
Paris, 1861 : Dusacq & Cie.) Contains 
Hugo's own drawing of Brown on the gal- 
lows, marked Pro Christo sicut Christus. 

V. Life and Letters of John Brown, 
with Notices of Some of his Confederates. 
By Eichard D. Webb. (London, 1861 : 
Smith, Elder & Co.) 

VI. Life and Letters of John Brown. 
By F. B. Sanborn. (Boston, 1885 : Kob- 
erts Brothers.) This is a really monu- 
mental work, of six hundred and thirty- 
two pages. Its author was a personal 
friend of Brown, and in his confidence 
through his last years. It is necessarily 


the foundatioii of all study of Brown's 
life. It presents a great body, but nol 
the whole, of Brown's existing letters to 
his family and others. 

VII. Century Magazine, June, L885. 
u John Brown al Harper's Ferry." By 
John K. \\ Daingerfield. 

VIIT. John Brown. By Dr. Hermann 
\'on Hoist Edited by Frank Preston 
Stearns. (Boston, 1888: Cupples, Up- 
ham <S: Hurd.) 

IX. Tin: Kansas Crusade. By Eli 
Thayer. (New York, 1889 : Harper 
Brothers. ) 

X . A ndovi r TU vu W, December, 1890- 
January, 1891. " Preludes of Harper's 
Ferry.'' By Wendell P. Garrison. 

XL The Kansas Conflict. By Charles 
Robinson. (New York, 1892 : Harper 
Brothers. ) 

XII. John Brown and his Men. By 
Richard J. Hinton. (Xew York, 1894 : 


Funk & Wagnalls Company. ) Another 
volume containing much personal testi- 
mony. It is especially valuable for the 
minuteness of the account of the Harper's 
Ferry Eaid and for its information about 
Brown's companions. 

XIII. The Life of Henry S. Wise. 
By Barton H. Wise. (New York, 1899 : 
The Macmillan Company.) An inter- 
esting and familiar book, written by the 
grandson of the governor. 


M. A. DeWOLFE HOWE, Editor, 

The aim of this series ifl to furnish brief, read- 
able, and authentic accounts of the lives of 
Americans whose personalities have impressed 
themselves most dccplv on the character and 
history of their countrv. On account of the 
length of the more formal lives, often running 
into large volumes, the average busy man and 
woman have not the time or hardly the inclina- 
tion to acquaint themselves with American bi- 
ography. In the present series everything that 
such a reader would ordinarily care to know is 
given by writers of special competence, who 
possess in full measure the best contemporary 
point of view. Each volume is equipped with 
a frontispiece portrait, a calendar of important 
dates, and a brief bibliography for further read- 
ing. Finally, the volumes are printed in a form 
convenient for reading and for carrying handily 
in the pocket. 


Paternoster House, Charing Cross Road, London 



The following volumes are the first issued: — - 

John Brown, by Joseph Edgar Chamberlin. 
Phillips Brooks, by the Editor. 
Aaron Burr, by Henry Childs Merwin. 
Frederick Douglass, by Charles W. Chesnutt. 
David Glasgow Farragut, by James Barnes. 
Nathaniel Hawthorne, by Mrs. James T. Fields. 
Robert E. Lee, by W. P. Trent. 
James Russell Lowell, by Edward Everett Hale, Jr. 
Thomas Paine, by Ellery Sedgwick. 
Daniel Webster, by Norman Hapgood. 

The following are among those in preparation: — 

John James Audubon, by John Burroughs. 
Edwin Booth, by Charles Townsend Copeland. 

James Fenimore Cooper, by W. B. Shubrick Clymer. 
Benjamin Franklin, by Lindsay Swift. 
Sam Houston, by Sarah Barnwell Elliott.